- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 7, 2005

HAGERSTOWN, Md. — The pit where Central Chemical Corp. dumped its waste is hidden, covered with soil to keep toxins from blowing into the nearby neighborhood or washing into streams.

The buildings where workers mixed DDT, arsenic and other agricultural pesticides and fertilizers have been razed, leaving cracked concrete slabs among the weeds covering the fenced, 19-acre parcel.

Despite the desolate appearance, the pace of work is quickening at the Superfund site in Hagerstown’s North End. Eighteen years after a construction crew found the dump while digging a sewer line, an analysis of the contamination is nearly complete and formulation of a remedy is in sight.

Eric Newman, remedial project manager for the Environmental Protection Agency, said progress was stalled for about six years after the EPA added Central Chemical to its list of the nation’s most hazardous waste sites in 1997, while the agency wrangled with the company, its suppliers and customers over how to proceed.

They eventually agreed on a two-part investigation that has cost the 15 participating companies about $6 million, including demolition of the buildings this spring. The companies’ contractor, URS Corp. of Fort Washington, Pa., finished a draft of its Phase II report in January and is conducting more tests at EPA’s behest to define the extent of groundwater contamination beyond Central Chemical’s boundaries.

“We’ve gotten a heck of a lot of information in two years,” Mr. Newman said. “Since February of 2003, we’ve done a dynamite job.”

After the draft is revised and accepted, possibly by the end of the year, the EPA will propose a cleanup plan, gather public comment and ask the companies to foot the bill for that work as well.

URS geologist William G. Murray estimated that it could be another two years before ground is broken for a cleanup aimed at making the property suitable for the uses a community panel has selected: light industrial or professional offices.

David Schwartz, president of Central Chemical, which owns the land, said he agrees with the proposed uses but it is too soon to say who might want to build there.

“I think we need to keep an open mind until we get closer to the time and see whether there’s a need for what we want to do,” he said.

The highest concentrations of the dozens of pesticides, solvents, compounds and toxic metals that Central Chemical used or disposed of at the site from the 1930s until 1968 are in the soil.

Mr. Newman said lesser amounts found in the groundwater pose little risk to humans because no drinking-water wells are nearby, and the city gets its drinking water from the Potomac River upstream of its confluence with Antietam Creek.

The Antietam and a tributary identified as Marsh Run 2 contain some of the substances linked to Central Chemical, but many of the same substances also were found in the same streams upstream from the plant, making it hard to pinpoint the source, the report states.

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