By Kari Hawkins, USAG Redstone December 20, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Earth is being moved to make way once again for missile production on Redstone Arsenal.
And while a recent visit to a site in the southeastern edge of the Arsenal revealed heavy machinery being used to move dirt in preparation for the construction of Raytheon's $75 million, 70,000 square-foot Standard Missile production facility, it's the dirt work that happened prior to the corporation's midsummer ground breaking that will have the most lasting impact on the environment.
The site was home in years past to a government-owned missile manufacturing facility operated by Thiokol. Years after the facility was shut down, it was determined that areas within the site were contaminated with manufacturing pollutants. And with Raytheon eyeing the site for a new manufacturing enterprise, contamination cleanup became a top priority with the Garrison.
"We have many areas -- 210 in fact -- on Redstone Arsenal where we are working to remediate pollution," said Terry de la Paz, chief of the Installation Restoration Branch, Environmental Management Division for the Garrison's Directorate of Public Works.
"But this area is among the first significant sites we have put back into productive reuse for a mission related to the Department of Defense."
Remedial work in three critical areas at the site began in the fall of 2010. While funding and management for the remedial work is done by the Army, the cleanup oversight is done by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
"We were operating under the federal program until about a year ago," de la Paz said. "But now, following issuance of the renewed Hazardous Waste Permit in September 2010, ADEM is the primary monitoring agency. The state has processes that we are required to follow that don't leave a lot of room for interpretation.
"The state tends to do bigger cleanups and tends to be more conservative, which can be more costly. But over the past year in working with the state we are getting things done faster than ever before."
In the case of the old Thiokol site, economic development was an incentive to maintain its priority with ADEM.
"The state of Alabama stepped out with us to expedite all our work to help the installation and the region grow economically and mission wise," de la Paz said.
"We've known for a long time that this was an area where the Army wanted to build. It's always been a priority. Two or three years ago when we solidified with Raytheon about what they wanted to do, we knew we would have to push hard. These sites have had all sorts of problems with administration and changing regulations. But we've been able to get one to two years of work done within six months thanks to the help of ADEM. They're not going to let us off the hook. But they've been willing to work to get us through the process as fast as possible."
Setting the standard to clean up contaminated sites for potential redevelopment is crucial to the future growth of the Arsenal, said Garrison commander Col. John Hamilton.
"The efforts of the Directorate of Public Works and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management to clean up this site allows the addition of another significant mission in support of the national defense on Redstone," he said.
"Our ability to continually reuse one of our most valuable assets -- our land -- for current and future missions is critical in sustaining Redstone Arsenal's significance to the Army, the Tennessee Valley and our nation. This site is especially significant because it allows the Arsenal to once again be in the business of missile manufacturing."
During the cleanup process, the state reviewed data reports and remediation plans from Redstone, and conducted on-site inspections. In all cases, the state "puts a lot of effort into making sure we get reviews done in a timely manner," said Steven Cobb, chief of the Governmental Hazardous Waste Branch in ADEM's Land Division. But the "economic advantages" presented with the old Thiokol site gave it particular priority.
"We wanted to help to ensure the site was available and ready for reuse," he said. "There's a lot of environmental work going on at Redstone. This was a priority because we wanted to make sure the work done in preparation of reusing the site was satisfactorily completed in good time. But our primary task is always to make sure cleanups are done to protect human health and the environment."
All parties involved understood the need to prioritize the old Thiokol site for remediation, said Craig Northridge, a program manager with the Garrison's Directorate of Public Works.
"The work was expedited based on the intended use of the project and what it means to us," he said.
"The site was important because it involved the reutilization of land for a beneficial purpose for the Army, the Department of Defense and the nation. By making this site useable we will add a contractor owned and operated missile producing facility to the Arsenal, we will bring manufacturing back to this site and we will have a greater pool of explosive operations on the installation that builds synergy with our existing mission base."
The proactive management style of Redstone officials along with the commitment of its remediation contractor -- Shaw Corp. -- made the job of monitoring the cleanup more manageable.
"We have a very positive and constructive working relationship with the folks at Redstone," Cobb said. "Understand, we may not always agree. But we work together to find solutions to protect human health and the environment. There's a great deal of commitment and coordination that goes back and forth."
In the late 1980s/early 1990s, Redstone Arsenal was among federal properties listed by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act as being locations for potential hazardous waste issues. The act set the standards that define hazardous waste and waste management, and directed government agencies to identify all potential hazardous waste sites.
"That's when we started doing a facility assessment with our numbering process to define the sites of potential hazardous waste," de la Paz said. "And we began a corrective action program for hazardous waste."
This corrective action program has resulted in the excavation of soil at multiple sites within the old Thiokol site related to perchlorate, which is used in the manufacturing of rocket fuel, and trichloroethene, a common historical industrial solvent.
"To remediate the perchlorate, we dug up all the contaminated dirt and had it hauled off," Barry Hodges of the Directorate of Public Works said. "We tested soil as we dug until we reached noncontaminated dirt. It grew to be quite larger than we had thought."
The soil was shipped to a special waste landfill for disposal, and the hole has been filled by Raytheon.
With the trichloroethene, "we dug up most of the contaminated dirt, but as with all cleanups, there are some residual pollutants left at about 12 or 13 feet," Hodges said. "We are currently working with ADEM to ensure that these areas will never pose an exposure problem to anyone. We are confident that either additional excavation of those isolated areas or placing land use control restrictions on those specific areas will do that."
Remediating these areas is important to Raytheon because, like any tenant assuming the responsibility for land used by a previous tenant, the company doesn't want to be held libel in the future for pollution they didn't cause.
"Early on, Raytheon voiced some concerns. They worked with us to get more information. We provided them our data and they took their own confirmation samples," de la Paz said. "They wanted to know everything about this site before committing to building their new facility here. They want to ensure that this site is clean from the start because in 50 years, when their lease ends, they don't want to be held responsible for something they didn't cause."