Sherman Army Airfield
Water continues to recede around the Sherman Army Airfield hangars and parking lots, seen here Aug. 16 at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Water remains on much of the airfield and the area remains off limits.

FORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. (Sept. 8, 2011) -- The airfield structures may look grimy and disgusting after being covered in river gunk for about nine weeks, but organizations are making sure Fort Leavenworth's Sherman Army Airfield buildings aren't dangerous to the public.

The banks of the Missouri River were flooded for most of the summer throughout several states in the Midwest, including Fort Leavenworth's airfield.

According to a Leavenworth Times story, the county of Leavenworth estimates its damage at $4.5 million. If the flood is declared a federal disaster, Leavenworth County will be able to apply for federal assistance. Fort Leavenworth, which is already a federal agency, will not. Post officials have not yet determined a cost of flood cleanup for the airfield.

Whether Sherman Army Airfield can continue to be used depends on the results of a Falling Weight Deflectometer, or thump test. The runway must be dry 40 days before the test. As of Sept. 6, the southern 20 feet of the runway was still under several inches of water.

Brenda Brewer, an industrial hygienist with Munson Army Health Center's Preventative Medicine, and employees from the Environmental Division of the Directorate of Public Works are conducting tests of the air, walls and sediment to ensure no dangerous contaminants are present.

Brewer said she received tests back for the tactical equipment building, known as building 75, but has not yet received results for the hangar, building 132. As Tom Cowan, director of the Directorate of Plans, Training and Mobilization has said, the flood was a "clean" one.

This was true for the equipment building, Brewer said.

"We were lucky and this was a clean flood," Brewer said. "Everything is very low, even the mold in the air despite the mold on the wall."

Industrial hygiene is sending off tests for asbestos, metals, volatile organic compounds, mold spores and endotoxins, which are an indicator of bacterial growth. Volatile organic compounds, known as VOCs, can show if the buildings had exposure to chemicals. The first tests for building 75 came back within acceptable levels as determined by the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists, which Brewer said is more stringent than the Occupational Health and Safety Administration.

The only test that came back high was particulates, which is basically just dust.

"There's a lot of dust inside 132," she said.

The air quality can change as workers are remediating and restoring the building, Brewer said, which is why it's important to test before work is done to compare the before-and-after results.

Regardless of the tests, workers are getting updated on vaccines and wearing protective gear.
Dale Cleland, chief of the Environmental Division of DPW, said his division is testing the building walls and sediment.

"We are going to test the walls of the hangar for lead, because we know they had lead-based paint on them," Cleland said. "We're not sure if any of that was left from the last (1993) flood."

A water line left almost no paint behind on the hangar building, which has a gray haze from the door handles down.

Cleland said his division is also testing sediment.

"We had all this stuff overflow our flood plain," he said. "Let's see if any of the sediment has things that we need to be aware of."

They'll test for everything, he said.

Cleland said he's had the chance to visit the airfield a few times for tests, and so far, not too many dead animals have been found.

"Last time I was down there I only saw a couple of dead fish that got stuck in the fence, and as the water continues to recede, we continue to watch for pockets of fish that are trapped."

A southern levy breach acted as a drain for some of the water as the river levels lowered, and it seems fish followed the drain back out into the river, Cleland said.

There are still many snakes, wasps and other wildlife in and around the buildings. The area remains closed to the unauthorized personnel.

Page last updated Thu September 8th, 2011 at 00:00