BG Ft Detrick Aerial

An aerial view of Fort Detrick.

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.

Follow Mallory Panuska on Twitter: @MalloryPanuska.

(4) comments


This article states: “The state health department has found no evidence of a cancer cluster around the site.” The implication is that there is no cancer cluster. This is quite misleading. In a 2012 analysis, the National Academy of Sciences acknowledged that there’s no way to tell if there is a cancer cluster because of the lack of historical data.

This article also states: “In 1992, the Army found groundwater contamination with PCE and TCE chemicals … The contamination also spread to several nearby residents’ wells …” This makes it sound bad enough that the Army is only now getting around “to launch a pilot study of three potential remedial technologies.” The truth is worse. Former Mayor of Frederick Paul Gordon, when he was writing for the Frederick Gazette reported that there were questions raised by the community back in the '60s about contamination coming out of Area B. Gordon also cited the 1977 official report to the Army that said, "Area B at Fort Detrick was contaminated with biological and radiological wastes, laboratory chemicals and other products ... Area B's geology created a high potential for such contaminants to pollute areas beyond the post's perimeter."

I was attending RAB meetings in 2012 when monitoring wells at the northwest border of Area B next to Kemp Lane revealed the level of TCE in the water at various depths to be as much as 3,000 times the maximum contaminant level set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

It was on April 9, 2009, over objections by the Army, that the EPA finally placed the "Fort Detrick Area B Ground Water Site" on the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL).

In explaining this decision, the EPA stated: "The aquifer underneath the Fort Detrick Area B Ground Water Site is among the most contaminated aquifers in the nation. ... To date, despite repeated State requests and a 1999 recommendation from the Army's own expert Advisory Panel, a thorough investigation of the nature and extent of contamination of ground water has not been completed. ... Area B is in close proximity to the drinking water supply for one of the most densely populated and growing areas of Frederick County. The lack of a completed investigation represents an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment." The purpose of the NPL listing is to ensure that this risk is addressed "properly and promptly."

There is nothing “prompt and proper” about how the Army has addressed this risk.


Haven't all those homes on Kemp Lane put on City water and sewage? If that northwest corner is so bad, why have the allowed new homes to be built there?


That poor experimental monkey that ran away decades ago, shot and killed was the only eye witness to the fact[sad]


Uh, maybe stick to selling pizza.

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