Sept. 23, 2010 FNP: Detrick to Expand its Area B Contamination Investigation

Fort Detrick will test surface and ground water for a wider swath of toxins and carcinogens, as well as expand its efforts to learn about possible past environmental contamination, to help quell a growing concern that the Army post could be linked to cancer cases in Frederick.

At the Area B Restoration Advisory Board meeting Wednesday night, Fort Detrick officials met with government regulators and community members to discuss their environmental research in the coming months. Most immediately, the Army will begin interviewing former employees and nearby residents to discuss things they’ve seen that could indicate environmental contamination. Fort Detrick is waiting for a contract to be pushed through, but a mechanism for signing up for an interview could be in place as early as next week, said Bob Craig, chief of Fort Detrick’s Environmental Management Office. Fort Detrick hopes to wrap up the interview process by December.

Fort Detrick also said it would soon know the results of its archival records search to determine how and when it used the herbicide Agent Orange, a known carcinogen. Craig said they should know by October the extent of its work with 2,4,5-T, a component of Agent Orange, and the full archival search should be completed by February.

Shaw Environmental and Infrastructure project manager Jeff Parks then presented his company’s Area B Groundwater Remedial Investigation Work Plan, instructions for how the Army should continue to test for contaminants in groundwater and surface water. The plan consists of six main objectives:

n Studying groundwater flow at varying depths and in both rainy and dry seasons to better understand how water under Area B spreads throughout the region.

n Determining the depth of the contamination at Area B, which was discovered in 1992 and was worsened while trying to remove some of the contaminated soil.

n Adding at least 35 monitoring wells to the 70 already in use — the wells will not only provide water samples, but also will allow cameras and other tools to go deep underground and provide more information about the geological conditions of Area B.

n Expanding the data set about Area B, both through the monitoring wells but also through other efforts such as walking up and down Carroll Creek to find places where the groundwater bubbles to the surface to join the surface water.

n Assessing the possibility of vapor intrusion — a process by which contaminants in water vaporize and leak into buildings through cracks in the basement.

Board member Henry Erbes pointed out that many of these efforts had already been undertaken in the 1990s, soon after the RAB formed following the 1992 contamination discovery. For example, Fort Detrick will be testing the water for traces of herbicides, including Agent Orange, but Erbes said the government already did that and concluded there was no evidence of herbicides.

Craig rebutted that technologies and scientific techniques have changed over the past 18 years and that it would be worth a second look, though Erbes said it was a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Adding to the arguing were supporters of the Fighting for Frederick project, which has been working since the spring to prove that Fort Detrick’s contamination caused a cancer cluster. John Bee, a scientist working for the project, said the government needed to look for contamination at the main post, not just at Area B. He vowed over and over to pursue an investigation into all of Fort Detrick’s property.

Joe Gortva, Area B restoration manager for Fort Detrick, said the Army couldn’t tack on measures to look for water contamination at the main post because “restoration funds can only be allocated for specific sites.” The project is specifically called the “Fort Detrick Area B Groundwater Remedial Investigation Work Plan,” so it can include only water studies at and right near Area B.

“I’m telling you, you need to include Area A in this, so that you do it once,” Bee still argued.

“The purposes of this work plan for the Area B groundwater has to be focused to the Area B groundwater,” Gortva said. “They’re different issues, there are different studies that might need to be done.”

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