Study finds chemical in groundwater
November 22, 2013
FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson is planning to test private wells to determine if a chemical used in explosives has migrated off the installation.
The post is taking part in the federal Operational Range Assessment Program (ORAP), multi-phase environmental testing conducted in recent years on military installations nationwide. ORAP is part of the Department of Defense's Sustainable Ranges Initiative, designed to ensure the long-term viability and continuity of military training and testing ranges while providing good stewardship for the land.
Recent testing on Fort Jackson and McCrady Training Center found traces of Royal Demolition Explosive (RDX) in water taken from wells near the southern boundary of the installation. A man-made chemical, RDX is an explosive component used in explosives since World War II, but does not pose an explosive risk when found in water.
"The results of our assessment are encouraging," said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker, Fort Jackson commanding general. "Although there are detectable levels of munitions components from operational ranges near the installation boundary, they are below the EPA health advisory levels."
The amounts of RDX that have been detected in the monitoring wells on specific operational training ranges at Fort Jackson are well below Environmental Protection Agency lifetime health advisory levels. Although results from monitoring wells indicate that it is unlikely that RDX will be found in the private wells located outside the training range, Fort Jackson has committed to conducting a thorough assessment.
ORAP was established by the DoD in 2004 to determine if the chemicals used in military weapons training have had an impact on the environment. For the Army, this program is run by the U.S. Army Environmental Command.
Fort Jackson is one of many installations participating in the first phase of the ORAP initiative in 2006, as well as the second phase, which began in 2012. The levels of RDX detected in the most recent phase of the study do not exceed EPA health advisory levels.
Regardless, Fort Jackson took steps last week to notify nearby land owners of the test results, seeking permission to collect samples of their well water. Samples are expected to be collected during the first two weeks of December, by which time the results of the latest phase of on-post testing are expected to become available.
An initial 24 letters and RDX fact sheets were mailed to homeowners in the area of the post's southern boundary. The goal is to conduct samples at 25 wells in that vicinity.
"We want to err on the side of caution and either confirm or deny munitions constituents are migrating off post," Becker said. "Groundwater samples near the Fort Jackson boundary indicate there is a small chance that certain compounds may be migrating off the installation. We simply want to be certain. If we determine there is a migration, we will take appropriate action to mitigate this finding."
"The lifetime level that might cause you to take action is the EPA's Health Risk Advisory, which is 2.0 parts per billion," said Barbara Williams, Environmental Management Branch chief, U.S. Army Garrison, Fort Jackson.
Even at that level, though, RDX is not considered to be a health risk.
Levels found on Fort Jackson's range were a fraction of that level: 0.78.
"You could drink the water on our range for the rest of your life and it would not be considered a health risk," Williams said.
Fort Jackson also plans to conduct a public meeting to discuss plans and methods of action to address issues that were discovered during the operational range assessment. The meeting is scheduled to take place 6 p m. this evening at the Weston lake Community House.
The EPA has classified RDX as a possible human carcinogen based on animal studies. To date there have been no studies that reported cancer in people who were exposed to RDX.
Environmental sampling and tests in the ORA program are extensive. They include a comprehensive battery of tests in training areas throughout the installation on soil, sediment, ground and surface water, for multiple chemicals and heavy metals found in munitions used for decades during training here at Fort Jackson and McCrady Training Center.
Becker noted that RDX might have had a presence in Basic Combat Training of Fort Jackson dating back to the 1940s, when the component was first introduced. It's believed that RDX is a byproduct of hand grenade training, because that is the primary purpose of the range in which RDX was detected.
"It's just one range that we use (grenades) on, so it's not a large-scale problem," Becker said. "But, it's critical to our training. This is Basic Combat Training, and that's why we go out and do these assessments. Fifty-four percent of the Army's Soldiers are trained here at Fort Jackson, so the training we do is critical. That's why we need to go out and proactively test -- to make sure we aren't harming the environment in such a way that would negatively impact our ability to train in the future."