Four of Maryland's members of Congress sternly directed Army officials yesterday to give state and federal environmental officials free access to inspect the Aberdeen Proving Ground northeast of Baltimore for hazardous waste problems.
The warning came at a Capitol Hill meeting between Army officials and four members of the state congressional delegation following recent disclosures of mishandling of chemicals and environmental problems at Aberdeen, where the Army tested and produced chemical weapons. More than 5 percent of the nation's chemical weapons are stored there.
Rep. Roy Dyson (D-Md.), whose district includes a large portion of the 83,000-acre proving ground, told Army officials, "I would like the Army, the Aberdeen Proving Ground family, to know . . . everybody seems to be in agreement: We want the Army to come forth, we want the Army to come clean, we want the Army to tell us what is going on there and clean it up."
State and federal environmental officials have complained that they have been unable to inspect thoroughly hundreds of buildings on the post in Harford County because Army officials have restricted their access to classified areas where hazardous wastes are produced.
Last fall a 200-gallon sulfuric acid spill from a 45-year-old chemical weapons research plant left dozens of fish dead in a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, Army officials said. State investigators since then have reported problems beyond the plant, forcing Army officials to acknowledge decades-old hazardous waste disposal problems at the post.
Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) said Aberdeen's reputation has been marred by "a deepening sense of concern" and "attitudinal problems." He quoted a letter Gov. Harry Hughes sent to the post commander, Maj. Gen. Andrew H. Anderson, Wednesday requesting access for state environmental officials to restricted areas where hazardous wastes are produced.
Army officials assured the legislators that they would include state hazardous waste officials on a two-month effort to inspect nearly 2,000 buildings on Aberdeen where chemical waste may be produced or stored. The inspection was announced this week by the Army in response to concerns over hazardous waste disposal there.
"It is an open post. This is your Army, this is your post," Anderson told the legislators.
State officials said yesterday that the Army, citing national security, has limited inspections to a hazardous waste storage facility and to a hazardous waste burning incinerator that are licensed by the state. State officials said, however, that they need more access to the rest of the proving ground to assure that sound environmental practices are being followed.
Ron Nelson, chief of the Maryland Waste Management Administration, said yesterday that the state has made 37 inspections of those two state-licensed facilities since 1981. State inspectors also responded to the acid spill last September but were not allowed to inspect that weapons research plant until February, he said. Since 1981, the Environmental Protection Agency has made two inspections, both this year, Nelson said."What's good enough for General Motors should be good enough for General Anderson," said Rep. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), referring to efforts by Congress to insure that the military is subject to the same hazardous waste regulations as private industry. "We need the military to be like Caesar's wife, above reproach."
Rep. Helen Bentley (R-Md.) said that the EPA would begin an investigation of Aberdeen next week.