By ANATH HARTMANN
WASHINGTON (Sept. 18, 2008)—The Army's refusal to submit to legally binding timelines for cleanup of groundwater pollution at two Maryland military sites is unacceptable and potentially harmful to nearby communities, Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin, D-Md., said at a Senate hearing Thursday.
At times raising his voice vehemently, Cardin quizzed panelist Wayne Arny, deputy undersecretary of defense for Installation and Environment with Defense.
"They've used Band-Aids to deal with an issue that's on the surface but they have not . . . complied (with the EPA)," Cardin said. "The DoD has done everything it can to deny its responsibility . . . they've put off repair because they'd rather spend the money elsewhere."
The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Affairs hearing came less than a month after Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced the state's intention to sue the Pentagon over its refusal to comply with an Environmental Protection Agency order.
The EPA has demanded the Army clean up 91-year-old Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County, 77-year-old Fort Detrick in Frederick County and 13 other military sites nationwide.
Water and soil analysis has shown the presence of toxins, including the old metal degreaser trichloroethylene and the lubrication compound polychlorinated biphenyl, at a number of the sites, including Fort Meade and Fort Detrick. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers trichloroethylene and PCBs potentially carcinogenic.
The Pentagon has said it has spent more than $120 million cleaning up the sites and plans to spend tens of millions more.
Other panelists testifying at the hearing were Susan Bodine of the EPA, Frank Marcinowski of the Department of Environmental Management, Shari T. Wilson of the Maryland Department of the Environment, Bonnie Buthker of the Ohio EPA, Elizabeth Limbrick of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services and Dan Hirsch of the non-profit Committee to Bridge the Gap.
Fort Meade has been on the Superfund list, a listing of the most polluted places in the country, since 1998. The EPA proposed adding Fort Detrick, a site used during World War II for biological warfare research, to the list earlier this month.
Cardin was most passionate in asking why Defense has failed to abide by EPA orders.
"We've done all the things that we've been required to," Arny said. "When you issue that (EPA) order, you're supposed to identify some immediate and pressing danger. And there was no immediate and pressing danger."
The Defense Department maintains both Maryland sites' drinking water is safe and disagrees that cleanup must happen immediately.
Wilson's testimony partly supported that view.
"While there is no immediate health risk at Fort Meade, we want to have confidence the cleanup work will be done in a timely way," Wilson said. "Without that legal step, it's very difficult (to enforce)."
Both Fort Detrick and Fort Meade will gain thousands of new employees in the coming years as part of the last Base Realignment and Closure process.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.