By Kristina S. Curley (U.S. Army Environmental Command)April 18, 2013
It is usually a combination of accomplishments rather than a single achievement that distinguishes an outstanding environmental restoration program. That is definitely the case with U.S. Army Garrison Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG); the 2012 winner of the Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for Environmental Restoration in the installation category.
"Once considered an 'environmental disaster,' APG was believed to have some of the most dangerous restoration sites in the United States. Public and regulator distrust abounded." said Vance Hobbs, Department of Public Works Environmental Division Chief. "Since then, a complete transformation has taken place and APG is proud of the restoration program and its accomplishments."
According to Hobbs, the APG Installation Restoration Program's success is the result of strong partnerships with regulators and the public, innovative strategies and dynamic program management. The program focuses on supporting the APG mission while executing a cost-effective environmental cleanup program that allows the safe return of property for military reuse while protecting human health, public safety and the environment.
"The APG's mission plays a key role in the nation's defense," said Terri Kaltenbacher, APG Community Relations Officer. "For the past 95 years APG has served as the center for Army research, development, and testing of numerous weapons, vehicles, and equipment."
Past practices resulted in numerous sites where hazardous materials accumulated and migrated into the surrounding areas. APG has taken appropriate responses ranging from standard excavation and removal to innovative technologies such as a multi-layer permeable cover that reduces the risk of an explosion or release of chemicals to the air and allows water to safely break down chemicals and transports them to a groundwater treatment plant.
"Our objectives are ensuring prompt action to address imminent and substantial threats to human health, safety and the environment; conducting appropriate, cost effective efforts to identify, evaluate, and conduct response actions, and promoting and supporting public stakeholder participation in the cleanup process," said Cindy Smith, Environmental Planning and Sustainability Branch Chief.
"I would like to give special thanks and recognition to the Installation Restoration Program team members: Rurik Loder; Allison O'Brien; Jeffrey Aichroth; Teresa Deshong, Ruth Golding (retired); and Karen Jobes. Without the core group's expertise and hard work, we would not be in the position to win this award."
Improved stakeholder relations and community outreach transformed an outraged public to positive and supportive partners. Faced with negative pre-existing community opinions, the APG team worked diligently to restore trust and change public opinion through educational briefings, site tours, open public meetings, and aggressive community outreach.
APG participates in numerous community functions, uses a newsletter and social media, to update local residents and provides program information on a web site and at document repositories at three local at libraries.
"Our aggressive and proactive approach forged an open, strong, and lasting alliance with the community resulting in an overall sense of trust and respect," said Kaltenbacher.
"The long-term benefits go beyond the restoration program to APG as a whole."
APG's commitment, dedication, and open communications are the foundation of positive working relationships with regulatory agencies. APG successful partnership with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the complexity of its program lead to the program's selection as a pilot installation for a Department of Defense (DoD) and EPA initiative designed to resolve discrepancies between the two agencies in reports to Congress. The crosswalk was successful and is planned to be implemented Army-wide.
Positive regulatory relationships also were paramount when white phosphorous was discovered in soil during a remedial action. APG received EPA and state approval to test a proof of concept that the sun's energy could be used to make the white phosphorous self ignite when heated in a slightly moist environment. Tests cleared the treated soil for landfill disposal saving the Army $3.8 million.
"This is just one example of APG's long history of alternative remedy study and development," said Rurik Loder, Restoration Program Team Lead. "We also host and support DoD Environmental Security Certification Technology Program scientists, whose proven innovative technologies may be incorporated into APG site remedies and potentially be applied Army-wide."
Two such innovative studies are using activated carbon as a means of isolating harmful contaminants in wetland environments at APG from discharge sewer lines that used to empty directly into a marsh. Traditional sediment cleanup methods are expensive and harm the ecosystem. With over 200 acres of contaminated wetlands, APG could save millions of dollars and minimize adverse environmental impacts if this technology is successful.
APG also hosted the Army's first phytoremediation demonstration to determine if trees could capture and treat a shallow groundwater plume contaminated with volatile organic compounds. The pilot study's success resulted in its becoming part of the final site remedy and being accepted Army-wide.
APG also looked for a more viable, sustainable solution to address contamination and buried munitions at a former open burning/open detonation and disposal site. Working with the Army Environmental Command, the EPA, Maryland Department of the Environment and contractors, APG developed a multi-faceted, innovative, cost-effective solution that achieved the desired remediation goals.
"Successful use of innovative techniques and green solutions avoided costly excavation and produced a long-term plan that protected and enhanced the environment while maintaining the Army mission," said Loder. "This project has been recognized in Army Environmental Command publications as an innovative and sustainable remedy, and the strategy has been applauded by EPA and state regulators."
"Many of APG's remaining sites are among the most complex and challenging due to the nature and extent of contamination," Smith said. "Standard cleanup practices will cost the Army over $30 million. Our challenge is to continue the actions recognized by the Secretary of the Army to find innovative technologies that protect the environment for reuse while demonstrating fiscal efficiency."