SAN ANTONIO -- The Army’s Environmental Restoration Program, more commonly known as the Army Cleanup Program, addresses a variety of hazardous contaminants and military munitions on Army installations across the globe to
bolster readiness. The initiative stemmed from the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, established in 1986 by the Department of Defense.
The mission is to ensure compliance with applicable federal and state environmental regulations, protect human health and the environment, and enable readiness by returning Army lands to usable condition. By performing cost-effective remediation on contaminated sites, cleanup efforts have enabled installations to expand and carry out critical missions.
“We deliver cost-effective environmental services globally to enable Army readiness by providing expertise, program management and project management in compliance, conservation, restoration and pollution prevention,” explained Hopeton Brown, Chief of Program and Liabilities Branch.
Under DERP guidance, the Army Cleanup Program prioritizes remediation sites into high, medium and low priority categories primarily based on relative risk. The Army evaluates relative risk by the type of contaminant hazard, migration of contaminants, and the potential exposure to humans or plants and animals.
The Army creates an Installation Action Plan for each site with an active environmental restoration project. The IAP is often based on a multi-year approach; however, with Fort Huachuca in southeastern Arizona, the planned construction of a new electronic proving ground facility on a former landmine training site propelled it into a time critical removal action.
Fort Huachuca, a product of the Indian Wars of the 1870s and 1880s, sits at the base of the Huachuca Mountains and offered protection to settlers in southern Arizona. Today it integrates and delivers base support, including training, testing, communications and intelligence, to enable Army readiness. The new EPG includes a much-needed maintenance facility to test and repair unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as drones.
The area designated for construction was undeveloped but located near existing buildings, making it more likely to contain archaeological artifacts than environmental hazards. Therefore, the first priority was to conduct an archeological survey.
As the team of archaeologists were digging, they found a metal object identified as unexploded ordnance. The area was cordoned off and the project was suspended until an Explosive Ordnance Disposal team could respond, detonate the explosive, and determine if it was an isolated incident or if additional hazards remained.
The news was disheartening; the proposed construction site was an old landmine training site and still contained UXOs. The finding would delay the construction and potentially threaten the Army’s ability to train Soldiers.
“In most cleanup projects, it takes years to get a site approved and funded and ready to begin work,” said Roberto Rivera, U.S. Army Environmental Command environmental support manager. “But because this was a construction project that was critical to the readiness of the Army, we were able to get all the approvals, funding and boots on the ground much quicker.”
The cleanup also paved the way for future construction. A campus with training facilities and administrative buildings is slated to be built within the next 10 years.
While the Fort Huachuca cleanup project was determined to be time-critical, many cleanup projects are deemed non-time-critical, meaning they are no less important but do not pose an immediate danger to Army readiness or personnel.
Some past practices and substances formerly used on Army installations may have been considered safe at the time but pose a potential risk to human health and the environment. Examples include a small arms arsenal that housed munitions or a training ground scattered with munitions debris. These types of facilities have been included in an Army-wide study as potential sources of soil, sediment and surface or groundwater contamination.
Cleanup of this nature falls under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
The multi-year, multi-phase process begins with site discovery, identifying installations with potential contaminants; followed by site inspection, determining if there has been a release to the environment; and finally, a remedial investigation, determining the extent of the contamination. The next phase includes the feasibility study, proposed plan, record of decision and finally, the cleanup. For some installations, this process is long term and could be ongoing for 20 or more years.
“You never know what you’re going to find,” said Mary Ellen Maly, USAEC environmental support manager “Someone might come across a UXO or a leaky drum, and suddenly you have a time-critical action taking priority. Or you might go months without finding anything. The important thing is knowing the ground has been cleared for future use. It can now be used for training, construction projects, or whatever the installation needs for readiness.”
Forward thinking is what prepared Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, for future development. This World War II era installation housed an industrial site for weapons plating and cleaning. Although the warehouses have long been destroyed, the likelihood that fuels, solvents and degreasers permeated the ground was certainly a possibility. The old industrial site is located on an unused part of the base called Area West. It had been planted over with many pine trees within the last century and old parking lots where buildings once stood.
“We knew the site history from 60 or 70 years ago, but we didn’t know what lay beneath now. We didn't know what contaminants could be in the soil or groundwater,” said USAEC Environmental Support Manager Hagan Ratliff.
“We knew it needed to be investigated because of the threat posed by the use of warehouses and because we heard there was going to be significant growth on the installation over the next 10 to 20 years. They were talking about construction projects costing millions of dollars, and we had to ensure the ground was safe and free from chemicals,” Ratliff said.
After the site inspection, chemicals were found in high concentrations near a French drain that carried all types of hazardous liquids from the buildings into nearby storm drains. The area had to be treated in place and proved difficult because the soil was primarily clay and resistant to water movement. In the process of determining the extent of the contamination, crews found a natural artesian well.
“We had to think outside of the box and use it to our advantage; so we created a pumpless pump and treat system,” said Ratliff.
This type of treatment falls under green remediation, meaning it does not use electricity or power. It instead uses gravity to move contaminated groundwater into carbon boxes where the water percolates up through activated carbons and then flows back onto the land surface.
“It was an elegant solution to a task that was really complicated,” Ratliff said.
Another project at Fort Gordon was cleanup and removal of an old water tank in the railyard area. In preparation for major construction about to take place, the water utilities were privatized, and the new water company wanted to build a more efficient and modern tank.
The old tank was a 1940s-era, two million gallon, metal storage unit. Previous preventive measures consisted of adding a fresh coat of heavily leaded paint every 5 to 10 years. Crews would come in, sandblast the tank, then resurface it.
The water tank cleanup project involved a large area surrounding the tank because years of wind and weather carried paint chips several hundred yards away. The old tank was taken down, cut into little pieces and hauled away. The soil was cleaned, and the new tank was successfully built just a few feet away.
Installations need to anticipate Army needs and be fully operational in case Soldiers are called to duty. The cleanup is a combined effort of local, state, and federal agencies working toward a common goal. Ratliff was quick to give kudos, recognizing the staff at Fort Gordon.
“There were a lot of entities involved, so I have to give credit to the environmental shop at Fort Gordon because they have done a marvelous job with limited staff.”
Not all cleanup projects are as straightforward. Lake City Army Ammunitions Plant in Lake City, Missouri, was added to the National Priority List on July 22, 1987, because of the types of contaminants and the hazards posing harm to human health and the environment.
The installation first opened as a small caliber ammunitions plant in 1941. It was common to dispose of solid waste and hazardous chemicals by burying them in large outdoor pits or landfills.
LCAAP contaminants included chlorinated volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, explosives, perchlorate, heavy metals, depleted uranium and non-aqueous phase liquids. Many of these contaminants do not dissolve in or mix well with water so dilution was impossible.
USAEC Environmental Support Manager Zaynab Murray said they were making great strides on the cleanup but then encountered contaminants that posed a greater challenge and needed a unique approach.
“To find a solution, we hired two of the most progressive leaders in restoration” said Murray. “It was through these companies that a thermal remediation solution was proposed, and Lake City became a pilot study.”
The theory is that high levels of heat applied to the subsurface affect the physical properties of volatile and non-volatile contaminants, which can then be extracted using steam-enhanced methods.
The process has been successful in returning soils to acceptable levels; however, it is costly and should only be used in rare cases to be fiscally responsible. LCAAP is currently in the process of evaluating which areas contain the highest levels of contaminates so they can create a priority list based on funding.
The Army continues to remediate contaminated sites. These sites may or may not pose an imminent and substantial endangerment to public health or the environment based on the National Priority List and future development.
USAEC’s role, according to Brown, is to “provide technical oversight to ensure installations are meeting the regulatory requirements by state and federal agencies.” Brown went on to explain, “There are certain aspects of the cleanup program, such as budgeting, permitting and coordination of all the stakeholders that works well being centrally managed. More importantly, we are leading and executing cleanup in support of our Soldiers so they can train and live in a safe environment.”
The Army continues to achieve its goal by providing technical expertise to enable Soldier readiness and sustainable military communities; however, as Roberto Rivera said, “These efforts will be ongoing throughout our lifetime. New methods and strategies will make the process easier, but at the heart of the mission is dedicated staff with the U.S. Army Environmental Command who act as liaisons between installations and other agencies, making the process more effective and efficient.”