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U.S. seeks dismissal of Fort Detrick pollution suit

Jul. 31, 2014 - 04:55PM   |  
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HAGERSTOWN, MD. — The federal government asked a judge Thursday to dismiss a developer’s lawsuit alleging that groundwater pollution from Fort Detrick in Frederick reduced the value of private land next door.

The Justice Department said concerns about potential pollution from an old chemical dump site on the Army installation had prompted state environmental regulators to prohibit any use of groundwater beneath the parcel long before Waverley View Investors LLC acquired it through bankruptcy in 2012.

“Waverley View may now regret acquiring property next to a Superfund site and wish that the Army would more quickly remediate the Area B groundwater but it cannot bring a tort suit on those grounds,” Maryland U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein wrote.

Rosenstein also wrote that both the dumping and the continuing remediation were discretionary government functions exempt from liability claims.

Waverley View filed the lawsuit in May in U.S. District Court in Baltimore, seeking $37 million in damages, including more than $13 million in lost property value.

The developer’s attorneys at Washington law firm Crowell & Moring declined to comment on the filing.

The Fort Detrick pollution investigation began in the late 1980s or early 1990s. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added the fort’s Area B to the National Priority List of the nation’s most polluted industrial sites — the so-called Superfund list — in 2009.

The government filing reveals that the toxic chemicals in question — TCE, PCE and chloroform — were used not only as general industrial solvents but also in biological weapons research at Fort Detrick from 1955 to the early 1970s. TCE was used as a freeze-drying refrigerant to produce dry biological warfare agents. PCE was used to decontaminate clothing exposed to anthrax. And chloroform was used as an animal anesthetic and as an inactivating agent for vaccines.

Fort Detrick’s laboratories switched to biomedical defense research after President Richard Nixon issued a policy in 1969 renouncing offensive biological warfare.

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