After years of criticism that Fort Detrick officials were not adequately addressing groundwater contamination stemming from the post’s operations, a contractor has announced plans to perform a pilot study that may finally get to the root of the problem.
“As I’ve mentioned before, we’ve spent years out here investigating groundwater impacts, surface water impacts, and often received comments; where are we going, what are we going to do about it,” said John Cherry, a representative of contractor Arcadis, at a Fort Detrick Restoration Advisory Board meeting on Wednesday.
Cherry presented Arcadis’ latest plans to launch a pilot study of three potential remedial technologies in two parts of a section of the Detrick property known as Area B to help Army officials plan future strategies.
“I think today’s presentation is a positive step in the right direction,” he said.
The fenced-in Area B off Rosemont Avenue is a Fort Detrick property where, decades ago, the Army dumped sludge from its former decontamination plants, ashes from its incinerators, potentially radioactive sludge from a sewage disposal plant, drums of the industrial solvent trichloroethylene, chemical and biological materials, and herbicides.
In 1992, the Army found groundwater contamination with PCE and TCE chemicals, often found in industrial materials such as dry cleaning fluids and degreasers, seeping into a nearby site once slated for residential development. The contamination also spread to several nearby residents’ wells, prompting Detrick officials to connect them to other water supply lines or provide them with bottled water. Some residents have also blamed PCE and TCE for cases of cancer.
The state health department has found no evidence of a cancer cluster around the site, and several lawsuits filed due to the contamination issues have been dismissed. The existence of the contaminants, however, is still a concern for some.
Since 2010, contractors have been investigating and collecting samples to assess the contamination issues, which have led to a pilot study set to commence in early 2019. The study is expected to take 2½ years to complete.
“It’s a pretty substantial pilot study,” Cherry said.
The first technology is a pump-and-treat method, in which officials will pump groundwater from two newly installed points, treat the water to remove potential contaminants, and discharge clean water to a nearby stream. The objective is to evaluate the feasibility of pumping and treating groundwater to reduce contaminants in the groundwater and assess whether officials can expand the approach for full-scale implementation.
“We will get the information and use it for the decision-making process down the road,” said Joe Gortva, Fort Detrick’s restoration program manager.
The next technology, which will begin after the pump-and-treat efforts, is a “very complex” process called enhanced reductive dechlorination, or ERD. It consists of injecting a carbon solution — in this case, molasses — into 12 shallow injection points to stimulate microbial degradation of contaminants in the groundwater.
“This will be highly effective as long as we can deliver the carbon solution effectively,” Cherry said.
Running parallel to those technologies, a third pond aeration test is also planned at an off-post pond. Cherry said the pond is on private property and the owner is amenable to testing, which includes installing fountains and diffusers.
The ultimate goal of the work is to reduce the level of contaminants seeping from Area B to Carroll Creek, because although the levels of contamination are not dangerous, they still exist. Cherry explained that officials have determined that a section within Area B, which they called B11, is the main source area of the contaminant. In turn, addressing that section will trickle down and help improve the entire area.
“The first step, perhaps the most important step, is attacking the mass,” he said.
The Restoration Advisory Board serves as a forum to keep the community, government agencies and Fort Detrick officials informed of cleanup activities on post. The board meets quarterly, and members frequently ask questions and relay concerns in the meetings. On Wednesday, while the members still asked a host of questions about the cleanup process and other details of the what is happening at Detrick in Wednesday’s meeting, board member George Rudy did commend the contractor’s initiative to launch the pilot study.
“We are headed toward a solution to cleaning up Carroll Creek. I think that’s a biggie. It really is,” he said.