- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 23, 2009

ANNAPOLIS | Drawn-out efforts to remove toxins and dangerous waste at Fort Meade will come under the control of the Environmental Protection Agency under an agreement long sought by Maryland officials to push the cleanup along faster, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin said Monday.

Fort Meade, one of the nation’s largest military bases, has been a Superfund site since 1998, and cleanup efforts for a variety of contaminants have been under way for years. Community members around the base have wanted more supervisory power for the EPA.

A “federal facilities agreement” signed by the EPA, the Defense Department, the Interior Department and the Architect of the Capitol — whose office archives documents on the grounds of the base - outlines roles and responsibilities for parties in the effort. It gives the EPA final authority over decisions.

“I am pleased that after nine years, a formal agreement has been reached regarding the cleanup of contaminated sites at Ft. Meade,” said Mr. Cardin, Maryland Democrat, in a statement. “The agreement recognizes EPA’s role as ultimate arbiter of cleanup standards and provides an enforceable framework for the Army to complete all remaining work at the fort.”

Mr. Cardin had been pushing for the agreement.

There are 14 contaminated sites at Fort Meade, which is located about 20 miles from the District. There are another three contaminated sites on land transferred from Fort Meade to the nearby Patuxent Research Refuge property.

“The agreement shows that EPA and the other agencies are now on the same page on how we will move forward to clean up the site,” said William C. Early, acting administrator for EPA’s mid-Atlantic region.

The Army could face penalties of up to $10,000 a week if it fails to comply with the terms of the agreement.

Last year, the Pentagon challenged the EPA’s authority to issue orders to force Superfund cleanups. But in December, the Justice Department said the Pentagon can’t fight an EPA order to clean up Fort Meade.

The state of Maryland filed a federal lawsuit against the Army in December, contending the Army has been taking too long to comply with a federal order.

The contaminants include solvents and heavy metals, explosives, arsenic and PCBs, according to the EPA. There also are elevated levels of volatile organic compounds; pesticides and explosive compounds have been detected in aquifers.

Volatile organic compounds can come from paints, solvents, fuels and building materials, and high levels in drinking water can pose health hazards. Low levels of volatile organic compounds, below health-based standards, have been detected in residential wells located in nearby Odenton, the EPA said. Based on information currently available to the EPA, no other drinking-water sources are affected by the contamination.

In addition, munitions have been found throughout the former range-training areas of the base, including portions of the Little Patuxent River.

Fort Meade was established in 1917 and includes the headquarters of the National Security Agency.

The fort has about 40,000 military, civilian and contractor personnel. It is scheduled to receive thousands of additional employees in coming years through the 2005 base realignment and closure process.

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