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Indian Head naval base recommended for environmental cleanup


The Indian Head naval facility in Charles County has been recommended to be added to the nation's burgeoning list of environmental cleanup sites, but a Navy spokeswoman said it poses no danger to the public.

Christina Adams, spokeswoman for the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Indian Head, said the cleanup would remove elements -- ranging from mercury and silver to various solvents -- used to make explosives and propellants.

The materials are found in traces on the 3,500-acre facility, she said.

"Everyone's really confident to work here. No one's afraid to drink the water," she said. "If there was anything hazardous, we'd be cleaning it up immediately."

Ms. Adams said the trace elements are the "results of previous disposal practices" during the center's 105-year history. "It's not happening right now," she said.

Ben Mykijewycz, an Environmental Protection Agency regional supervisor in Philadelphia, said the EPA will make a final decision sometime after May on whether it will add the base to the list of priority Superfund cleanup sites.

No site proposed for the list has ever been turned down, said Bill Hudson, an EPA regional supervisor in Philadelphia.

Ms. Adams said the Defense Department would pay for the cleanup, to ensure that chemicals don't seep into the ground water, including the Potomac River.

Environmental engineers the last 11 years have identified 100 areas on the base that may have be contaminated, Ms. Adams said.

The Navy determined 80 of these don't need to be cleaned up, she said. Eighteen are in the preliminary stages of study. The Defense Department has paid private contractors about $2 million to clean up the other two.

Ms. Adams said the base, which researches, develops and tests explosives and propellants, is scrupulous about watching out for the environment.

The number of possible contaminations is high only because almost anything could have put an area on the list, she said. "Someone could have changed the oil on their car and spilled some of that oil, and that could be one of the 100 sites. It could have been a drop," she said.

Mr. Mykijewycz said the Defense Department would pay for the cleanup even if the base isn't added to the Superfund list.

But being added to the list could speed up the process, direct more money to the cleanup and prompt public discussion about the problem, Mr. Hudson said.

The Indian Head base has already formed a panel of residents to open lines of communication.

"We've been working with the community to make sure that they understand what we've been doing with the environmental cleanup program," Ms. Adams said.

The Indian Head facility is the largest employer in Charles County, with 300 Navy personnel and 3,300 civilians, Ms. Adams said.

If Indian Head is added to the EPA Superfund list, it would join 1,241 other active sites around the country, said EPA spokeswoman Lauren Mical.

Twelve active cleanup sites in Maryland -- in Allegany, Harford, Cecil, Anne Arundel, Prince George's, St. Mary's and Baltimore counties and Baltimore City -- are currently on the list.

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