Monday, March 5, 2012

Controversy Surrounds Army's Plans for Munition Plant Cleanup

Author: Duane Craig

The State of Wisconsin is reviewing the U.S. Army’s plan for continuing to clean up the Badger Army Ammunition Plant near Baraboo, Wisconsin, according to an article in the Baraboo News Republic. So far though, the state is not going along with the Army’s plan to shut down a pump and treat system that has removed and treated about 20 billion gallons of groundwater since it was installed in 1991.

The watchdog group, Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, is also not thrilled with the Army’s plans to abandon the groundwater pump and treat system. The organization’s concern is that the environment may be further endangered and those who rely on their wells will be put into a financial hardship if they have to abandon them later.

According to a report prepared by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, the BAAP currently poses no “apparent health hazard because current exposures to site-related contaminants do not exceed health guidelines for chronic exposure.” The agency also found that the groundwater recovery and treatment system had reduced the contamination and the potential for the contamination to spread. The State of Wisconsin, however, is concerned that the plume of contamination may continue to extend beyond the boundary of the plant, so it wants the wells to continue to be monitored quarterly for chloroform, carbon tetrachloride and trichloroethylene.

The BAAP has a long history of processing weapons materials and operated from 1942 until 1975. There were 1,400 buildings at the facility, and propellant and deterrent processing was carried on in most of those buildings. Besides that, there was a coal burning power plant. In one area of the facility, nitric acid was made from ammonia, and nitric oxides were routinely released from the rooftop vents. Sometimes when there were thermal inversions, where cooler air trapped warmer air close to the ground, the area would be bathed in a brown haze. There was also elemental sulfur that was converted to sulfuric acid and other derivatives at another part of the facility, and the coal burning power plant released its un-scrubbed, thick, black smoke into the air over the region.
Other common practices included disposing of waste in landfills, ground set aside for burning, and discharge areas where wastewater was disposed of. At the propellant burning ground, waste propellants and waste process chemicals were burned. At the deterrent burning ground, benzene and nitrocellulose were burned.

Since 1988, at least 260 monitoring wells have been following the spread of contaminated groundwater. The contaminants of main concern are carbon tetrachloride and chloroform. Volatile organic compounds have moved past the southern boundary of the plant, and a plume of sulfates has moved past the eastern plant boundary.

The Army’s new plan is to shut down the water treatment system and simply continue monitoring the contaminants with the expectation that they will naturally break down sometime in the next 30 years. The cost of that plan will be about $40 million. Another option the Army is considering is continuing to treat the groundwater and continuing to monitor the contaminants until they break down naturally. That course of action is expected to cost $80 million. Another idea is to use naturally occurring organisms to treat the water and to continue monitoring the contaminants until they break down naturally. This plan would cost about $61 million.

1 comment:

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