Reports showing widespread chemical and other contamination of Dugway Proving Ground and property adjacent to the chemical and munitions test site demonstrate the need for prompt action by government agencies.
U.S. Army officials at Dugway and Bureau of Land Management authorities should get together promptly to resolve any jurisdictional or other problems that may stand in the way of ensuring the safety of Dugway employees or private citizens who unwittingly wander onto Dugway or nearby property.Such action is vital in view of Army reports, revealed in Deseret News stories this week, showing that Dugway is littered with at least 124 identified potential hazardous waste sites containing everything from drums of lethal nerve agent to old radioactive refuse.
Bad record-keeping on where contaminated solid waste and other materials have been buried or the results of old chemical, biologic and artillery testing make such action imperative.
One area the Army is most concerned about is at the Carr facility, a site with many labs and work buildings. An accident at that site in 1968 indicates that hazardous wastes may be buried throughout the area.
Leaking underground petroleum tanks, poor wastewater management, contamination of ground water near some Dugway wells and a multitude of other problems obviouslyu need attention.
Army officials say they are so concerned about the contamination that they want to enlarge Dugway's southern boundary to enclose the affected areas - a region about 23 miles wide and 3 miles long. The area, located 5 miles west of Simpson Springs in Tooele County and about 5 miles northeast of Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge, is now overseen by the BLM.
Even though the Army prepared the documents showing the extent of the contamination problem it acted slowly. The Army has known about the contamination since at least 1979 and probably long before. Regrettably, the BLM, which has responsibility for overseeing the land, says it was not given hard evidence about the contamination problem. The BLM should have at least been given copies of studies detailing part of the problem.
Some BLM officials say they are not convinced that transfer of the land outside Dugway boundaries to the Army is wise or necessary. They maintain that the Army created the problem and should be responsible for cleaning it up. Army officials maintain they can't resolve the problem until the transfer occurs.
The BLM says it was warned about hazards in a 640-acre area known as the old "Rising Sun" grid and that the agency took steps to withdraw the area from public use.
Many mistakes made in connection with hazardous materials at Dugway in the past cannot be corrected, but many can. Close cooperation between Dugway officials, the Department of the Army, BLM and other agencies, plus better record keeping, will help to ensure that.