Dugway Proving Ground is littered with at least 124 identified potential hazardous waste sites harboring everything from drums of lethal nerve agent to old radioactive refuse.
But even worse, a third of the land on the Rhode Island-sized base may cover buried contaminated wastes and unexploded arms - results of old chemical, biologic and artillery testing.Bad record-keeping leaves Army officials guessing whether many areas on base are contaminated, or exactly what materials may be contained in even identified waste sites, according to documents obtained by the Deseret News through a Freedom of Information Act request.
But the documents for the first time give a fairly good idea of what areas on the desert post the Army expects may be contaminated and how vast they are.
The documents also show that the Army is concerned that toxic wastes might pollute wells that produce the base's drinking water, or cause death or injury if they are disturbed. They also say the Army has never monitored Dugway's water for the presence of chemical and biologic test agents, so it doesn't know if it has had any such problem to date.
The documents show that not all of the contamination comes from chemical and biologic tests - but also from less exotic but still hazardous problems with leaking underground petroleum tanks and poor wastewater management.
The bright note, however, is that reports were prepared by the Army as part of a process to identify waste sites so that it may better manage them or clean them up as funding permits. Dugway is scheduled to spend millions to help clean the environment over the next several years.
The reports obtained by the Deseret News include a July 1988 report by the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency (USATAHMA) and a May 16, 1988, report by the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency (USAEHA), both studying waste problems at Dugway. Both agencies are based at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.
The reports show that Dugway began trying to identify hazardous waste sites in 1986, when El Dorado Engineering identified 67 such sites. Four later studies by other consultants and Army agencies increased the number of identified sites to 124.
Some sites are extremely remote; others are in the middle of residential or work areas. The potential danger of wastes at the sites also varies widely, ranging from probably safe incinerated test-animal remains to extremely dangerous unexploded bombs with deadly nerve agent.
One area the Army worries most about is at the Carr facility, a site with numerous labs and work buildings. An accident there in July 1986 suggests there may be buried wastes throughout the area, and some buildings may be on or very near it.
A civilian construction crew was excavating for a new building and pipe installation at Carr when it dug into earth contaminated with chemical agents, including mustard agent, according to the documents. The crew also ran into what were reportedly old smoke canisters and obscurants, which were accidentally set off.
Some workers were overcome with fumes from the contaminated soil and required medical treatment. They are currently suing the Army because of the accident.
One report said, "It was concluded that the area was formerly used to dispose of (mustard agent) HD-contaminated items from the laboratory and other test activities. More than 600 cubic yards of soil was removed from this location and transported to Toxic Waste Pond No. 7 for storage. The soil will remain in storage until a proper disposal procedure can be determined."
The report then adds ominously, "Additional contamination areas may exist at the Carr facility. Any additional areas could cause future safety problems if they are accidentally excavated, or could allow hazardous materials to seep into the groundwater and create health problems if they are not excavated."
Some of the potentially hazardous materials found at the other 123 hazardous waste sites on base in clude incinerated test-animal remains; radioactive waste; heavy metals; nerve agents GA, GB, VX and GD in drums; fused bombs; chemical rounds; laboratory vials; mustard agent HD; transformers possibly containing PCB; drums of unknown chemical agents; live foreign chemical munitions, and even whole contaminated, buried trucks.
At least one type of waste has been deemed secret. A test identified only as "Trial C-990" produced some residue that is buried near the tower grid on the southern portion of Dugway. Exactly what the waste is has been classified.
Also, at least two of the specific waste sites identified by reports are off the base. One is south of it, at the old "Rising Sun" grid where the penetration of chemical arms into tunnels and bunkers was tested. It has been fenced. The other site is north of base boundaries at a septic tank drainfield where sewage and possibly chemical wastes were dumped.
Officials don't know what exactly is at many of the identified potential hazardous waste sites. They merely have noted that mounds of dirt indicate something is buried. Records often indicate that wastes were buried in such areas, but provide few specifics about exactly what was put there.
Dugway spokeswoman Kathleen Whitaker has said in the past that environmental concerns in the 1940s and 1950s were not what they are today, and Army personnel apparently were sometimes simply told to bury wastes somewhere without keeping good records.
The agencies that prepared the reports are also calling for a site inspection to determine the potential for contamination of the ground water near some of the base's wells.
They note some landfills and other potential hazardous waste sites are near some wells, and fear it could contaminate shallow groundwater. The reports also include concern that contaminated shallow water could migrate along poorly sealed well pipes into deeper aquifers.
While the water to date appears to have had no problems, the studies say no monitoring for chemical or biologic test agents has been performed.
The report also noted two wells have had large amounts of nitrates and were taken off the culinary system. The report said the cause of the nitrates was never determined, but one of the possible causes could have been leaching from wastes in a nearby landfill.
One problem with groundwater may also have come from hazardous wastes, but from something as non-exotic as a leaking underground gasoline tank.
Reports say that in March 1984, "residents of Dugway complained of black particles in the water which stained clothing."
The Army said the water still met applicable state and federal health standards, but found some petroleum compounds were contaminating one of the base's wells. The source was never found, but a leaking gas tank or lubricant on a pump was suspected. The problem ceased later that summer.
A review of the condition of underground storage tanks on the base, however, revealed that 90 percent of them are leaking and need to be replaced. Petroleum leaks have contaminated some areas, but have been cleaned up, reports said.
The studies also say that the base's wastewater treatment system, which impacts groundwater, also does not meet state and federal standards.
For example, one pond (which is now closed) where liquid wastes generated by chemical lab experiments were drained was not lined, meaning the waste could possibly seep down to lower groundwater.
The wastes also received only minor treatment before dumping. The studies said Dugway plans to collect soil samples to determine whether any contamination exists. It also plans to retrofit it for disposal of non-hazardous liquid wastes.
The study recommends that base wastewater systems be upgraded. The base has vowed to comply.
Besides problems mentioned with specific possible waste sites, reports indicate that many more unlocated wastes likely are scattered over about a third of the base at old test ranges.
That may include contaminated soils from dissemination of chemical and biologic agents, or may include unexploded munitions.
Army documents say all known unexploded munitions lying on the surface have been collected and destroyed or stored, but many others may be buried.
Whitaker has said the Army has contractors who constantly roam the desert base looking for munitions or other wastes that may have worked their way to the surface. The Army then disposes of them.
881114 ARMDUMP2 SCOTTY;11/14,16:00 1MAPVASTDUMPissidebar Editor's note: This is the second of two reports by Deseret News Washington Bureau Chief Lee Davidson, dealing with infor
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