2002 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: 17 Oct 2002 16:19:13 -0000
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Toxic Ranges
CPEO has prepared a background paper on the risks of toxic substances on
military munitions ranges. The first five paragraphs are pasted below.
To download the entire report, see

Center for Public Environmental Oversight
October, 2002

A National Problem

The U.S. military operates munitions test and training ranges covering
tens of millions of acres of land and waters throughout the United
States and beyond. It has terminated the use of other range areas
covering millions of acres more. Munitions fired, dropped, and disposed
of on those ranges pose a dual threat: First, and most immediate,
literally millions of bombs, shells, rockets, grenades, and other items
lying on the surface, resting underwater, or buried beneath soil and
sediment may explode if disturbed. Second, and perhaps equally
significant in the long run, the chemical constituents and explosive
byproducts of those munitions pose a toxic threat to public health and
natural ecosystems as they move through the environment.

Particularly at operational ranges, the Department of Defense has been
slow to recognize and address the hazards posed by military munitions.
Cleaning all such ranges to make them safe for non-military uses would
be prohibitively expensive, and the application of environmental
standards designed to support other uses would interfere with the armed
services' routine training and testing operations. Consequently, the
Defense Department has argued for years that munitions on ranges should
not be regulated as hazardous substances or hazardous wastes.

The most acute threat on both operational and former conventional ranges
- this is not necessarily true for ranges where chemical munitions were
used or buried - is explosive safety. For example, in May 2000, a
Mississippi boy died when an anti-tank shell removed by other teen-agers
from nearby Camp Shelby exploded. In 1983, two boys died when they
discovered an old shell at the end of a cul-de-sac in their San Diego
neighborhood, built on a World War II training range. A great deal of
work is being done to remove munitions from such areas, and to keep
people from approaching explosive devices, but the Defense Department
and other government agencies have not yet agreed upon a process for
identifying and removing such hazards. At least, today all parties
recognize that unexploded ordnance (UXO) - munitions that fail to
explode as designed - present a serious, widespread challenge.

The military is moving more slowly to acknowledge the toxic threat. By
the early 1990s, several ammunition plants and munitions handling
facilities had been placed on U.S. EPA's National Priorities List (NPL),
commonly known as the "Superfund" list, because explosive chemicals such
as TNT (trinitrotoluene) and RDX (Royal Demolition Explosive) were
present in the soil and groundwater. Still, the Defense Department
conducted little research into the fate, transport, and toxicity of
explosive substances and their byproducts. It largely ignored the
potential for toxic contamination on ranges.

This changed in 1997, when U.S. EPA ordered the National Guard to halt
training activities at Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, after toxic
explosive chemicals were found in the sole aquifer supplying drinking
water to hundreds of thousands of people. Though the Pentagon resisted
EPA's strong stance, it began new research programs and increased the
sampling of soil and groundwater on other ranges around the United
States. Generally, where ranges have been sampled for explosive
chemicals and propellants, such residues have been found, although in
most cases officials do not deem the contamination an immediate threat
to public health.



Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 278-A Hope St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/961-8918

  Prev by Date: [CPEO-MEF] Firm says toxin threat at site diminished
Next by Date: [CPEO-MEF] Cleanup Work in Colorado Reduces Risk of Plutonium Accident
  Prev by Thread: [CPEO-MEF] Firm says toxin threat at site diminished
Next by Thread: Re: [CPEO-MEF] Toxic Ranges

CPEO Lists
Author Index
Date Index
Thread Index