Fort Meade waste called no 'immediate threat'; Public health report is first step in cleanup


A public health report released yesterday showed the contaminated areas that put Fort Meade on the federal Superfund list pose no "immediate threat" to people in or around the base.

The assessment by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry is one of the first steps in the cleanup process mandated by Environmental Protection Agency now that the post has been placed on the National Priorities List.

The findings -- not surprising to EPA officials -- do not mean the post is clean. It shows that residents are in no immediate danger from the contamination EPA officials will investigate during the lengthy Superfund procedure.

"The threats that are generally remediated under the Superfund process are generally long-term threats and don't pose any immediate danger," said EPA spokesman William Hudson.

"Many times when [the EPA is] trying to get a remedy in place over a three- or four-year period, people say, 'How can you just leave us out there?' Well, we don't. If there's anything that needs to be remedied or removed, it will be removed. It just has to be determined first that there is an immediate threat."

The study, which began July 1998 after Fort Meade was placed on the National Priorities List, reviewed information from the Army and Maryland Department of the Environment about the post's laundry, Tipton Airport, the Defense Reutilization Management Office, a landfill, and unexploded ordnance on a parcel that now belongs to the Department of Interior.

Pesticides, solvents, volatile organic compounds and semivolatile organic compounds were among the contaminants found in ground water and soil around the four sites, according to EPA documents.

Of particular concern was Atrazine, a pesticide discovered in aquifers that ran beneath a landfill and outside the post gates where nearby residents use well water. According to the report, the levels are not high enough to pose an immediate danger, and toxic substances agency officials could not determine from records and interviews whether the contamination came from the post.

The laundry, landfill and reutilization sites were "considered no apparent public health hazard," according to the report.

The grounds owned by the Interior Department, where hunters stalk the woods of the Patuxent Research Refuge, was determined to be an "indeterminate public health hazard." The report said "an encounter with unexploded ordnance could possibly occur" but that the probability of that was reduced because of "current education programs and access restrictions."

"We're not as quick to agree on that," said Paul Leonard, a federal facilities section chief for the EPA. "In the report it [makes reference] in several sections that there is a reliance on institutional controls, public education and monitoring. We want to make sure we are protective. We don't necessarily disagree with what they said, but we don't agree with it yet."

As the Superfund investigation continues, EPA and Army officials will determine spots on the base that are potential environmental hazards, Leonard said.

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