Cloverhill residents also briefed on Agent Orange study, Area B cleanup
Originally published October 27, 2010
Fort Detrick rescinded its application to pump well water to use in its labs and office buildings, Col. Judith Robinson told about 125 Cloverhill residents Tuesday night.
Cloverhill residents were taken aback in early July when they received a letter announcing Fort Detrick had applied to draw 150,000 to 250,000 gallons of groundwater a day from below the Army post, which shares the same water aquifer as the Cloverhill neighborhood. Neighbors flooded Fort Detrick’s public affairs office with calls, letters and e-mails, angry that they had not been informed sooner or given an opportunity to weigh in on a decision that so directly affects their households. Their big fear, residents said, was that the shallower wells of less than 30 feet could easily dry up if Fort Detrick pumped water for industrial purposes.
But according to Robinson, the Fort Detrick garrison commander, Fort Detrick never really wanted to rely on groundwater to meet its needs.
Fort Detrick has 10 major buildings under construction and many more in the planning stages. A few years ago, when garrison officials realized how much the new construction would strain resources including water, they scrambled to find as many contingency plans as they could. Among them were applying to pump well water and seeking to purchase treated water from Frederick County, similar to the agreement between the county and the City of Frederick. While they worked hard for the agreement with the county, the well water application quietly moved along without much notice.
“So unbeknownst to us, the contractor sent out these letters the Maryland Department of Environment required, and put the verbiage in there that was required by the state of Maryland — it didn’t have the verbiage we would have put in there if we had seen it,” Robinson said. “But they sent it out. So now you guys got the letter and you guys go ‘what the hell!’ And then I saw the letter and went ‘what the hell!'”……
She said three wells had been dug for a brief test to measure the effect pumping water would have on the surrounding aquifer. The wells will not be sealed up, but Robinson said Fort Detrick would use them only to test for groundwater contamination.
“What we really wanted to have happen has happened: we successfully got money from the Army … to make an agreement with the city and the county to get water through the Potomac pipeline,” she said. Though that water will cost about 21Ú2 times more than producing their own water from the Monocacy River, it provides a more stable water supply than the Monocacy, which is more prone to low water levels during droughts.
After Robinson’s presentation, several attendees asked for assurance the Army would not change its mind. Robinson was clear: The water agreement with the county is a long-term deal, Fort Detrick has no interest in using well water, and even if it did it would need to go through a lengthy process that includes public hearings.
With one hot topic solved to everyone’s satisfaction, Robinson turned to other local concerns: an investigation of a possible cancer cluster near Fort Detrick, Area B groundwater contamination and construction of a new Fort Detrick gate to replace the one on Opossumtown Pike.
The issue of the cancer cluster investigation struck a nerve. Residents were concerned their families live in a danger zone. Robinson assured them she wanted answers as much as they do. She said her mother, grandmother and aunt died of cancer and that several other relatives were battling the disease.
“This is near and dear to my heart,” Robinson said. “This concerns me, with a son who wants to live here and a dear friend who has 10-year-old twins who just moved into Cloverhill, and all of that, this is something that I take here,” she said, pointing to her heart.
The goal of figuring out what chemicals were tested and where is a difficult one, Robinson said, because in the early 1970s “the Fort was directed to send its files to elsewhere, so they are scattered all over the place.”
From what the Army’s archival research contractor has found thus far, Robinson said it appears that herbicides and pesticides were tested on small, table-sized plots of land, though some larger plots have come to her attention. Rather than waiting for the entire research report to come back, Robinson assured the Cloverhill residents her staff was beginning to test areas of concern.
The Army plans to spend nearly $1 million on the archival search and interviews with current and former residents and employees who may know something about the research and environmental activities that took place decades ago. Robinson said the archived records would be compared with the interviews to see what information corroborates what, and a report with the findings may come out as early as February.
Greg Phillips, president of the Cloverhill Civic Association, said he was pleased with the outcome of the meeting. His concern in planning the meeting was no one would attend, but the Cloverhill Civic Association found itself with the opposite problem — the 50 or so chairs set up were filled 15 minutes before the meeting started, and about 125 people crammed themselves into the small meeting room. Civic association members brought out every stool and office chair they could find in the building and several residents brought their own folding chairs.
“Obviously the residents were very enthused about being able to meet Col. Robinson and hearing what the Army had to say,” Phillips said. “I think we’re all pretty happy that the city and the county and Fort Detrick were able to reach an agreement on the water from the Potomac. And I think that’s going to go a long way in alleviating some of the residents’ concerns about their wells drying up.”