Fort Detrick to Test Land Near Contaminated Area B

The Frederick County, Maryland, Board of Commissioners has given the Fort Detrick Army Base permission to drill wells and test county-owned property for contaminants. According to the Frederick News-Post, the land to be tested is located between the main part Fort Detrick and the facility’s Area B, where biological testing and dumping of toxins was allowed for many years.

As we’ve reported previously, Fort Detrick was the site of Agent Orange research from the 1940s into the 1960s. Area B was used for Agent Orange testing, as well as for buried disposal of a number of contaminants including drums containing organic solvents such as tetrachloroethene (PCE) and trichloroethene (TCE). In April 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added Fort Detrick Area B Groundwater to the National Priority List (NPL) based on PCE and TCE detections in offsite drinking wells. Agent Orange, TCE and PCE have all been linked to various cancers, including leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and respiratory cancers.

The Kristen Renee Foundation, which bears the name of a woman who grew up near the facility and later died of cancer as an adult, claims to have uncovered more than 1,000 cases of cancer so far among families living within miles of the U.S. Army facility. Cancer victims and their families who believe Fort Detrick contamination played a role in their disease are preparing to file lawsuits over what they say is a government cover-up of the dangers posed by Area B.

On Tuesday, the Frederick Board of Commissioners gave Fort Detrick access to 88 acres in the area of Montevue Lane and Rosemont Avenue in order to conduct groundwater testing there, the News-Post reported. The federal government will have access to the land for two years, but will only be on the site for 90 days. It will take roughly 45 days to drill the wells, and a month will be devoted to testing water samples. The agreement between the County and Fort Detrick requires that the County be informed of the test findings within 30 days

“If there is a problem out there, it is better to know it and address it,” County Attorney John Mathias said. “It’s an opportunity for them to better investigate environmental issues.”

Rob Sperling, the chief of public affairs at Fort Detrick, said the testing project will help speed efforts to clean-up Area B.

“This gets us moving forward on our restoration program,” Sperling told the News-Post. “These are areas that we are hoping are relatively undisturbed and will give us the best picture.”

Jennifer Peppe Hahn, a Frederick resident who grew up near the post and was diagnosed with cancer as a child, told the News-Post she was encouraged by this latest development.

“It’s a great first step,” Hahn said. “It’s very much geared toward the safety of this community. … Until we know what exactly was put into the soil, we have no idea if we are doing it the right way.”

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