- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

EDGEWOOD, Md. (AP) — The Army is set to begin a multimillion-dollar cleanup on land contaminated by radioactive waste at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, even as officials work to destroy more than 1,600 tons of mustard agent stockpiled there.

Base officials held three meetings last week to update residents on their efforts to clean the radiological waste yard and the site of the mustard agent stockpile.

The site on the Edgewood peninsula was the East Coast collection point for Army radioactive medical and research waste in the 1950s and 1960s. Until the early years of World War II, it also stored canisters of mustard agent and other dangerous chemical weapons.

The Army is spending millions every year to clean up the toxic legacy of the military research and testing site.

The Environmental Protection Agency has a list of priority cleanup sites on the Edgewood peninsula, including a 1,621-ton mustard agent stockpile, dumps of old chemical weapons, lab leftovers and radiological waste.

Restoration workers at the proving ground’s former radioactive waste processing facility are set to begin the first phase of a long-term cleanup that will take years to complete and cost millions.

The proving ground collected waste from East Coast Army sites and prepared it for deep-sea dumping, a designated disposal method during the 1950s and 1960s, said Don Green, an environmental scientist at the Aberdeen base.

Mr. Green said the $1.9 million first phase of the cleanup will remove about 11,000 cubic yards of soil on the 3.1-acre site, which is contaminated by cesium-137 and arsenic.

Contaminated soil will be removed, tested and sorted, with contaminated dirt shipped to Envirocare, a low-level radioactive waste handler in Utah, he said.

A study outlining options to clean deeper contamination in the soil and groundwater will be finished later this year, Mr. Green said.

It’s expected to cost $6.9 million to clean the Edgewood landfill, while the radioactive waste facility cleanup could cost about $6.6 million, Mr. Green said.

Since the installation began destroying its stockpile of mustard agent, a banned carcinogenic blistering agent, in April, it has been beset by minor problems.

Workers are destroying the stockpile by mixing the mustard agent in a large tank with hot water to break it down into treatable, less-dangerous byproducts.

To speed up the destruction timetable by a year, the Army retooled the robotic plant that was being built, creating a smaller plant that uses workers instead of a fully automated assembly line. Workers reach inside separately vented gloveboxes to empty the 1-ton containers of the agent. The containers are then closed and later shipped to Rock Island, Ill., to be destroyed.

In the past couple of months, the retooling has led to a power outage and low-level releases of vapor.

Members of the Maryland Citizens Advisory Committee, which has worked closely with the Army on chemical agent destruction, said they haven’t received any phone calls from concerned residents.

Joseph Lovrich, site project manager of the destruction plant, said the plant is operating round-the-clock and had destroyed about 71 tons of mustard agent. He said no agent has been released outside the plant.

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