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Where the Streets Have No Name: The Collision of Environmental Law and Information Policy in the Age of Terrorism

December 2003

Citation: 33 ELR 10978

Issue: 12

Author: Christopher Gozdor et al.

Introduction

Perchlorate, a chemical component of rocket-fuel that is used in explosives, was found in drinking water wells in the city of Aberdeen, Maryland, late last year.1 The chemical interferes with the body's uptake of iodine, disrupting thyroid function. Low thyroid levels interfere with brain development in fetuses, infants, and children.2 Aberdeen's small but vigilant band of environmental activists were alarmed, although no one doubted the source of the contamination. Aberdeen abuts the 72,500-acre U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), one of the largest weapons proving grounds in the country.3

Given APG's size and prominence, it is surprising that last year's perchlorate discovery was only the second time chemicals from the base had been found in municipal water supplies.4 In the 1990s, trichloroethane was found in water supplies derived from the Perryman well fields.5 The Army agreed almost immediately to erect a $ 2.2 million groundwater treatment plant near Perryman,6 and most citizen activists expected similarly rapid action to clean up the perchlorate. This happy ending was not to be.

The authors received their juris doctor degrees from the University of Maryland School of Law in May 2003. They spent their third year as student attorneys in the University of Maryland School of Law Environmental Law Clinic where they had the privilege of representing the Aberdeen Proving Ground Superfund Citizens Coalition in its efforts to obtain information from U.S. Arrny officials at the base.

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