Mikulski asks Aspin to help clean up APG Senator calls for long-term strategy


Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, citing "serious environmental problems" at Aberdeen Proving Ground, has asked U.S. Defense Secretary Les Aspin to develop a long-term plan for cleaning chemical contamination and managing waste at the Army post.

"If we take the time to develop a long-term and thoughtful strategic plan, Aberdeen can become a model for how cleanup efforts should take place at a federal site," the Maryland Democrat wrote this week to Mr. Aspin.

The letter follows a three-month Army investigation that found the proving ground's environmental program seriously understaffed and hindered by poor management and internal strife.

Those conclusions, included in 500 pages of documents obtained by The Sun and reported May 16, came four years after the criminal convictions of three top proving ground officials for mismanaging hazardous waste.

In addition, the recent investigation, which was ordered by the proving ground commander, noted continued failure to comply with state and federal environmental regulations.

The commander, Maj. Gen. Richard W. Tragemann, is seeking 13 additional environmental specialists and a near doubling of the proving ground's annual budget for environmental cleanup and compliance, to about $100 million.

In addition to the recently concluded investigation, the proving ground's environmental program is being investigated by the Army's inspector general and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Without a "strategic plan" for the proving ground's environmental program, "we will continue using scarce resources without improving conditions," said Ms. Mikulski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Helen Delich Bentley, the 2nd District Republican, warned recently that increasing criticism of the proving ground's environmental program could cause the Clinton administration to target the installation for cutbacks or closure.

The proving ground, a 75-year-old weapons-testing and research center, is Harford's biggest employer.

It generates $1.5 billion in payroll and contracts in the region each year.

A Defense Department spokesman said Ms. Mikulski's letter would be handled by the Army. An Army spokesman in Washington said officials there had not yet seen the letter.

Gary Holloway, a spokesman for General Tragemann, said: "We truly believe we have the most comprehensive environmental program in the Army already. We're not saying it's perfect."

Mr. Holloway said the proving ground has a long-term plan to clean up old dump sites. But, he added, a more comprehensive plan could include ways to deal with the hazardous waste the proving ground continues to generate.

Speaking of Ms. Mikulski's letter to the defense secretary, Mr. Holloway said, "We certainly welcome her assistance. We feel we are working toward the same goal."

The proving ground already employs or is studying several advanced decontamination technologies.

Army and Harford County officials met yesterday to continue negotiations on the use of large carbon filters to remove a suspected carcinogen from the county's underground well field in Perryman.

The proving ground has built a $13 million structure to contain uranium dust generated during testing of anti-tank weapons and armored vehicles. It is also trying to develop a prototype to demolish an old chemical warfare laboratory that was the focus of the earlier criminal trial.

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