TOXIC TRAIL? Army to close much of popular path next to old military landfill

SILVER SPRING, Md. -- Some people who live in Silver Spring are upset because a large portion of a popular trail is being temporarily closed as part of an environmental restoration project.

The Army, which controls a section of the Ireland Trail, says the ground and water have been contaminated by an old landfill on the Fort Detrick Annex property.

Starting in January, they will fence off about 40 percent of the trail to restore the area.

The community says the Army is exaggerating the risk because it is just afraid of toxicity lawsuits.

"So what they have done, in an excess of caution, they have invented exotic scenarios in which a person would burrow down in the soil, find an old test tube, suck on it, lie down in broken glass, get injured - and here's the key part of the sentence - sue them. Because what they really care about is lawsuits," said resident Steven Rosen.

The medical waste is from the Army's own landfill, which is right next to the trail.

People who use the trail every day have banded together in a group called "Save Our Ireland Trail." They do not want the trail closed off, even temporarily.

"If we thought it was a health hazard, rather than a health benefit, we'd be the first to be against it. We're for it because it's good for us. This is a 60-year-old problem, not a new one," said resident Dennis Gallagher.

"It takes the prettiest part of the trail, which includes historic bridges, historic picnic houses. It's just gorgeous. Plus, they're going to cut off the stream," said resident Barbara Schubert.

In a statement, the Army said its decision "best ensures that risk levels associated with the stream remain at or below the acceptable levels."

The Army insists the trail will reopen when the environment has been restored, but not everyone believes that.

"We're going to see this fence for the rest of our lives, our children's lives and our grandchildren's lives. This trail, which has been used for 200 years, is going to be closed to the public forever," said Rosen.

An Army spokeswoman says work on the trail will take several years.

Full statement from U.S. Army:

"It is our responsibility to protect the public from exposure to potential hazardous material on Army property. It is also our responsibility to investigate and clean up past practices which have led to environmental contamination. The alternative selected provides the maximum and continued level of protection to human health and the environment and best ensures that risk levels associated with the stream remain at or below the acceptable levels, while still allowing continued public use of most of the Ireland Trail.

This is an interim action; it is not a permanent solution. The evaluation, selection and implementation of the final remedy will take at least several years to complete. A Non Time Critical Removal Action is being implemented to protect human health and the environment while the permanent remedy is determined and implemented. The Army is currently performing a Feasibility Study which is the next step in the [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] process to evaluate the final remedy."

Lanessa Hill
Public Affairs Officer
United States Army Garrison Fort Detrick