By ANATH HARTMANN
WASHINGTON (Dec. 5, 2008)—Fort Meade will comply with an administrative order to clean up groundwater pollution, following an announcement this week by the Justice Department that the Pentagon has illegally ignored Environmental Protection Agency timelines.
Steven G. Bradbury, principal deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department, wrote in a private Dec. 1, Office of Legal Counsel opinion to the Pentagon that EPA had legal grounds to demand immediate cleanup - on its terms and schedule - of the Anne Arundel County site and two others in New Jersey and Florida where groundwater is polluted by toxins.
The Pentagon said this week it was making significant cleanup progress at 91-year-old Fort Meade, where soil analysis has shown the presence of the carcinogenic metal degreaser trichloroethylene. But Fort Meade will now begin complying with the EPA's schedule, said Addison Davis, assistant secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.
"We don't want to be off in a dark corner doing our own cleanup. (Being monitored by EPA) does require a greater level of detail, such as ... how we're going to address the contaminants, so it adds a little bit of structure to it,'' Davis said.
Fort Meade has spent $83 million on pollution cleanup so far and has set aside approximately $24 million more, he said. The military site has been on the Superfund list, a compilation of the most polluted places in the United Senate for a decade.
EPA said it was confident the Air Force would follow Army's suit in complying with its pollution cleanup schedule.
"We trust that DOD will move quickly to comply with the ... orders issued at McGuire (and) Tyndall," EPA spokeswoman Tisha Petteway said.
A Pentagon spokesman, however, offered no such promises.
"We continue to comply with the substantive provisions of the orders through the [Superfund] process and to make cleanup progress at these sites in conjunction with EPA and State environmental regulators," said Chris Isleib, a Pentagon spokesman.
In August, Maryland Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced the state would sue the Pentagon for the latter's refusal to comply with EPA orders.
Shari T. Wilson of the Maryland Department of the Environment said at a September U.S. Senate hearing there was no immediate health risk from groundwater pollution at Fort Meade.
Capital News Service contributed to this report.