EPA report assails Army

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Thirty-one sites at Fort Meade could be contaminated with hazardous waste and should be studied further, a 300-page report issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency concludes.

The report criticizes Army officials for violations ranging from shoddy record-keeping to improperly labeled containers of dangerous materials.

The EPA found that Fort Meade failed to train people who handle hazardous waste, allowed residue from helicopter cleaning at Tipton Army Airfield to wash into the Little Patuxent River, and failed to file a spill-control plan.

Drawing up a plan is especially important, the report says, because Fort Meade is rapidly changing in light of the federal base realignment plan that closed its firing ranges and transformed it into an administrative post.

"Fort Meade is undergoing many changes with pollution sources being moved, consolidated, or in some cases eliminated," the report says. "The [Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures] plan has not been amended within six months to reflect operational changes that affect the potential for oil discharges."

The potentially contaminated areas include an inactive fire training area under a hangar at Tipton Army Airfield, four landfills and several warehouses and buildings where hazardous materials are stored.

Don McClow, a Fort Meade spokesman, said the problems listed in the EPA report have either been or are being addressed.

The Maryland Department of the Environment, which is studying the report to see if any citations should be issued, considers most of the problems administrative.

"There were a number of paperwork and record-keeping type of things," said MDE spokesman Michael Sullivan. "In terms of operations, I don't think there was anything we would consider very serious."

In addition to the EPA probe, Fort Meade is being investigated by the Army for misconduct complaints that range from waste and fraud to racism and violations of federal environmental laws.

Specifics of the investigations have not been made public, but the Department of Defense recently expanded its investigation beyond the 89 allegations compiled last year in an 800-page secret report.

Criminal charges studied

Fort Meade officials said 17 investigations are being conducted on the post, seven of them involving criminal charges.

Among the findings in the EPA report:

* Containers of hazardous waste in five collection areas were not properly marked to show that they contained volatile substances or to identify their contents.

* Post officials did not submit their 1989 and 1990 reports on hazardous waste generation to the EPA by the March 1 deadline of each year. Both were turned in late.

* Personnel training records did not list the job titles or names of employees working with hazardous waste. The skills, education or other qualifications and duties were also not specified.

* Contingency plans for dealing with hazardous waste spills did not describe the arrangements agreed by police and fire departments, hospitals, contractors and state and emergency-response teams.

* Workers who handle petroleum products or other hazardous substances had not been trained within six months of employment.

* A comprehensive survey of asbestos problems on the post was never done, and projects to remove the dangerous insulating material were performed based on incomplete information.

* A dispute between post officials and golf course administrators delayed bringing several underground storage tanks into compliance with EPA regulations.

Many of the potentially contaminated sites had been identified several years ago, as federal officials prepared to close part of the base, but the EPA recommended in its report that further study be done, in many cases to assess the extent of ground-water contamination.

Four inactive landfills, all bordering or under Tipton Airfield, are contaminated, the report says. In some cases, ground water is contaminated with lead, arsenic and chromium.

Underground tanks

Other areas surrounding the airport, including service roads and airplane service buildings, also could be contaminating ground water, the report found.

Some of these potential problems are underground storage tanks that failed leak tests or had joints that were not tight.

Mr. McClow said they have been repaired.

The EPA recommended additional testing around a 130-acre active landfill because some drainage from the site was "a deep reddish color."

The EPA said it found 29 3-gallon drums of used photographic fixer at the U.S. Army Information System building; a 55-gallon drum of solvents at the Allied Trades building; a 65-pound box of corrosives at Kimbrough Medical Supply building; a 5-gallon plastic container of solvents at the Veterinary Laboratory; and two metal storage cabinets of ignitable liquid waste at the Arts and Crafts building.

Although the EPA said Fort Meade has met regulations governing its 193 underground fuel storage tanks, the report found that a feud between post officials and administrators at the golf course delayed testing at that site.

Problems solved

The report says Fort Meade officials were aware of several compliance problems at the golf course since 1990.

Mr. McClow said these problems have been solved. He said the underground tanks were not brought into compliance because it was cheaper to wait until they were going to be removed. That has been done, he said.

The report also says that officials have been derelict in correcting a leak at the post boiler plant that was discovered by the state Department of the Environment June 8, 1992.

The MDE ordered 29 monitoring wells dug around the site to determine the extent of ground water contamination. However, the EPA said in its report that post officials were "tardy in submitting a corrective action plan" and a system installed to collect overflow "has not functioned consistently since its installation" in May 1992.

Even after the operator of the wastewater treatment plant was convicted of falsifying eight discharge monitoring reports in 1991, data were still being compiled on loose-leaf notebook paper instead of in a bound logbook.

Training criticized

The EPA also found training procedures inadequate for workers in charge of handling hazardous waste. Most of these violations were for failing to train employees on the dangers of toxins within six months of their employment.

Fort Meade was credited with removing asbestos in a safe manner, but criticized for not conducting "a comprehensive asbestos survey."

But Paul Robert, chief of Fort Meade's environmental management office, said through a spokesman that a survey was completed for all housing and child care centers, and Anne Arundel County surveyed the six public schools on the post.

He said a survey has not been completed on buildings in which people do not live, but added that those buildings are thoroughly surveyed by an EPA-licensed inspector before renovations are done.

Mr. McClow called the report's conclusion on asbestos handling at Fort Meade "misleading." He said Fort Meade has wanted to perform a comprehensive survey for the last several years, but requests for funds had been rejected by the Department of the Army.

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