Report: Groundwater contamination in Area B deemed indeterminate

Exposure data used by a federal agency in its study of groundwater contamination at Fort Detrick’s Area B was inadequate and the seepage should have been considered “an indeterminate public-health hazard,” the National Research Council said today.

But, the NRC, in a 25-page report released today, said additional studies of groundwater at the 399-acre site located off Rosemont Avenue would be unlikely to establish a link between local residents’ complaints of a cancer cluster and groundwater contamination found in the area because historical data doesn’t exist.

Area B, a former dumping ground for Detrick, has long been a site of contention and speculation among local residents. The Army found groundwater contaminated with PCE and TCE-chemincals often found in industrial materials such as dry cleaning fluids and degreasers-seeping under the site in 1992. The contamination spread to several residential wells, forcing Fort Detrick to connect those residents to other water supply lines or provide them with bottled water.

The NRC’s report reviewed two studies. One study was done in 2009 by the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry about possible exposures to groundwater contaminants found at Area B. The other study was completed by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene at the Frederick County Health Department and looked at whether there were unusual patterns in cancer incidences around the site. Neither of those previous studies found enough evidence to link Area B exposures to increased incidences of cancer that residents have reported.

“The data was so skimpy,” said John C. Bailar III, who chaired the NRC committee that produced the report. “The measurements they had were from 1992 and there’s no telling what was in that water before that.”

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