World War II was won more than half a century ago. The Cold War is over. But both left a toxic legacy that has contaminated thousands of acres of Utah's landscape.
Most of the pollution is on federal military bases, but the contamination spread to private and public property adjacent to at least two of the facilities. In hundreds of military experiments and uncounted examples of slovenly disposal practices, contamination was left in soil and underground water.The military experimented with or dumped nearly every conceivable dangerous substance: nerve agent, germs, unexploded bombs, pesticides, organic compounds, chemical warfare training kits, oil, jet fuel, solvent, mustard agent, radioactive dust and the debris from staged nuclear meltdowns.
Despite obvious threats to man and nature, the Defense Department cleanup budget for Utah is less than $85,000 a year. The sum is "pretty pathetic," in the words of Bob Lockwood, military affairs aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.
"The absurdity is found in the numbers," said Lockwood, speaking from Washington, D.C., Friday. For the five fiscal years 1998-2002, the projected cleanup amount for Utah bases is less than half a million dollars.
Meanwhile, the Air Force spends $43 million a year just to cleanse some of its overseas bases, mostly in Germany, Japan and Korea.
Under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, established by Congress in 1986, and the Base Realignment and Closure Act, dating to 1990, the Defense Department is required to identify, evaluate and clean up any contamination that it caused.
The goal, according to Defense Department policy, is "to reduce, in a cost-effective manner, the risks to human health and the environment."
Yet poor funding for Utah base cleanup slowed the privatizing of a section of Tooele Army Depot. Conceivably, federal foot-dragging could delay the hand-over of Defense Depot Ogden to the Ogden Redevelopment Agency, scheduled for July 2001.
A look at the problem is a study in contrasts. There are shining successes such as the cleanup at Hill Air Force Base and instances of glaring negligence. Here is what the Deseret News has learned about military contamination in Utah:
Dugway Proving Ground
This immense base, covering 1,300 square miles of the Great Salt Lake desert in Tooele County, was established in 1942 to develop munitions and defenses during World War II. Nobody knows exactly what contaminants remain amid its salt flats, rolling sand dunes, desert scrub and jagged mountains.
From the 1940s through the 1960s, Dugway served as a huge open-air laboratory for studies in which germs, nerve agent and other toxic substances were released. In a report written for the Deseret News in 1952, Dugway's Lt. Robert Cintron wrote that the base was the Army Chemical Corps' main area for the "large-scale testing of chemical, biological and radiological weapons."
Cintron described a typical chemical test: A visitor would see "men so completely shrouded from head to foot in airtight suits that they must wear name tags to identify each other and converse by radio, although they might be riding together in the same jeep . . .
"As the first light of dawn breaks over the horizon, the headlights of the jeeps, some of them 20 miles away, could be seen scurrying back to the main base or to their assigned control points. . . . A few moments later, a giant bomber would take off from an Air Force base miles away to drop its deadly cargo into the testing area."
Documents acquired by the Deseret News show that from 1949 to 1963 Dug-way hosted 20 open-air, non-nuclear explosions to release and track radioactive dust, with total radiation released 10,000 times that of the Three Mile Island accident. It held at least 328 open-air, germ-warfare tests.
Also, there were no fewer than 1,174 open-air tests of chemical weapons like nerve gas, with almost 500,000 pounds of it released into the atmosphere over the years. In 1968, a herd of Utah sheep was killed when deadly nerve agent drifted off base. For years the Army denied killing the sheep but later reimbursed the ranchers for their losses.
In 1967, a tray of anthrax spores was exposed to the atmosphere at the "Salt Flat Grid," 35 miles from Wendover. Because anthrax spores can remain dormant but viable indefinitely, one section of Dugway was labeled as permanently off limits.
Later, base officials checked the area, running soil tests and even stationing sheep there to see if they became infected. When no trace of anthrax turned up, they rescinded the "permanent" closure in 1974.
What happened to all those chemicals and germs? Did they just disperse and break down harmlessly? Does any danger linger from the bombardment of dead-ly chemicals, biological agents and radiation? Dugway cannot say.
Melanie Moore, base spokeswoman, told the Deseret News that personnel cutbacks among the base environmental staff were so severe that the task of assessing the danger was farmed out to civilian contractors.
These experts are preparing a detailed report that should be finished in April, she said.
A 1996 Defense Department sum-mary lists the number of sites as 199, with cleanup costs until then pegged at $55 million. From Fiscal Year 1997 through FY 2032, it adds, $151 million will be needed to cleanse the region, it says.
Property adjacent to Dugway
Immediately after the 1968 nerve gas accident, 1,700 of the sheep were buried in a pit on Bureau of Land Management land, an area called White Rocks northwest of the town of Dugway. Recently, Army Corps of Engineers technicians bored into the pit and took samples to see if the nerve agent still posed a danger.
They found no contamination, said Jack Brown, hazardous materials coordinator for the BLM's Salt Lake field office. "But we're still negotiating with them because we have some questions about their methodology and things like that."
The Yellow Jacket area and the Southern Triangle are two other sites off Dugway that the base contaminated, totaling about 2,000 to 3,000 acres. There, Dugway tested munitions that could penetrate caves and bunkers used by Japanese troops in the Pacific.
Yellow Jacket is a mining area with a great deal of private land, he said. Army officials tested bombs "to see what the munitions would or wouldn't do in terms of penetrating the underground structures."
The BLM believes some of its land was hit by bombs that accidentally went off base.
Magnetometer studies found evidence of metallic objects below ground.
"Most of it will be fragments of ordnance, either chemical or high-explosive shell casings," Brown said. "There is a potential for unexploded ordnance. There have been a couple found on the sur-face."
The "Rising Sun Grid," the test zone in the Southern Triangle, is fenced off so the public can't wander in. But the area where overshooting may have happened, and the Yellow Jacket region, only have warning signs.
"We don't believe that's adequate to protect the public," Brown said.
Hill Air Force Base
According to a July 1997 report by the Environmental Protection Agency, this base in Davis and Weber counties - an installation that also dates to World War II - has 81 sites of potential contamination scattered throughout its 6,670 acres.
"Hill AFB began investigating (toxic) releases in 1975 when a nearby resident reported an orange discharge from a spring on his property near the base boundary," the EPA report said.
Old waste disposal landfills, pits and spill areas are located near the base boundaries, where the topography allows shallow groundwater to carry poisons off the base.
Besides runoff from maintenance, Hill used to dump solvents, oil and fuel in pits. That was a common practice at industrial sites across the country "until we got smarter," said Bob Elliott, the Defense Department's contact person for Hill clean-up. That resulted from environmental campaigns of the 1950s and '60s.
The most common contaminants that pose a risk - including the risk of cancer - are chlorinated solvents, material used to degrease aircraft during maintenance. Solvents are found in soil, groundwater and springs both on and off base.
"Metals which need to be addressed include chromium cadmium and arsenic and are mostly off base," the EPA adds.
Elliott said decontamination projects have been going on since the early 1980s. "At Hill Air Force Base proper, there's about 1,092 acres that are contaminated, and not all of those are on the installation," he said.
Six plumes of contamination have moved off base in the groundwater.
Altogether, 500 acres within the boundaries and 590 acres off base are contaminated. The groundwater is shallow, while the drinking water groundwater is much deeper - "hundreds of feet below," he said.
"The base uses approximately 40 million gallons of jet fuel every year," he added. "We have found a number of contaminated sites associated with (leaking) underground fuel tanks or fuel transferring operations."
Hill uses innovative techniques to clean the aquifer, including "bioventing" in which microorganisms get additional oxygen to help them break the chemicals into harmless constituents. For other sites, trenches allow solvents to dissipate into the air.
Reclamation projects were launched in 1988, and so far Hill has spent $86.8 million. All but four sites are essentially cleaned up. But among the four are some difficult spots. Costs should reach $242 million before the project is finished.
"Most sites will be cleaned up in the next 10 to 20 years," Elliott said. "However, the two more challenging sites will take significantly longer." Cleanup is anticipated by the year 2050.
Utah Test and Training Range
This 900,000-acre bombing range in Utah's western desert is run by a partnership between Hill and Dugway. It handles 30,000 military training sorties a year, with strafing, the firing of cruise missiles and the dropping of both live and dummy bombs.
About 60 contaminated sites are suspected at the UTTR, said Elliott, who also handles cleanup for the range. Some might be old bomb craters that were used as landfills, with refrigerators, garbage and possibly unexploded ordnance tossed in.
Possibly 10 or 20 percent will require cleanup to protect the environment, "you know, the bugs and bunnies out there, as well as if there's a human risk," he said.
A hazardous waste landfill north of I-80 was closed in 1991, and a series of monitoring wells was installed.
Besides the landfills, UTTR is laced with unexploded bombs.
"That's not uncommon around the target areas to have unexploded ordnance there," Elliott said. Of course, the general public can't stray into the area, he said.
So, should the target sites be decontaminated? "It's kind of a practical problem. You don't want to go clean these up and go bomb them again tomorrow. It's not efficient until the targets are inactivated to go in and clean them up," he said.
"Our priority has been focused here at Hill because of the population density and the contamination of the groundwater system. The remoteness of the Utah Test and Train-ing Range has driven it to a lower priority, and that's all been constrained by funding."
UTTR's low priority for cleanup is proven by the dollar signs. From 1986 until the present, only $2 million has been spent on the restoration. Eventual cleanup costs should reach $34.5 million, according to Elliott.
Defense Depot Ogden
The 1,100-acre base is slated for privatization in a little over three years. It has three contaminated sites, the largest of which was 50 acres when cleanup began. Like other sites, it has been shrinking as chemicals are removed.
Oil and solvents make up most of the pollution - a legacy of vehicle maintenance and rebuilding from the 1940s through the early 1960s.
"During those years we weren't as environmentally conscious of what it would do if it (chemical waste) was just dumped some place," said Del Fredde, environmental coordinator for the closure of the Ogden base.
"We're projecting that it'll take up to 2017 to clean the groundwater up," he added. Contaminated groundwater is pumped from 100 wells, treated to remove contamination and pumped back into 100 other wells. Chemical-laced soil is shipped to approved disposal sites and replaced with new soil.
So far, cleanup efforts have cost $35 million. Another $10 million to $15 million may be needed before the job is done. "A little over 80 percent of the base is transferable," Fredde added.
Tooele Army Depot
This Army base takes up 24,732 acres in the southern part of Tooele Valley, close to the city of Tooele. Vehicle storage and maintenance was carried out here as well as demilitarization of ammunition.
As a result of a 1993 recommendation by the Base Closure Commission, 1,700 acres and 200 buildings will be transferred to the Tooele City Redevelopment Agen-cy, leaving the Army only with responsibilities as an ammunition depot.
Since the 1980s, 56 sites have been identified where contamination might have occurred - places like battery shops, transformer storage lots, a radioactive waste storage area and a chemical range.
"Tooele Army Depot is presently evaluating alternatives for remedies at those sites requiring cleanup," said Kathy Anderson, base spokeswoman.
Contaminants include explosives, solvents, metals, pesticides, petroleum products and PCBs. But no chemical warfare material or biological agents have been discovered.
"To date, final remedies have been selected and implemented at several sites with the remainder still being evaluated."
Cleanup should be finished by the year 2004 in all but one of the sites. The exception is an industrial waste lagoon with 2,400 acres of contaminated groundwater, which will take 25 years to cleanse.
By 1996, $70 million had been spent on reclamation. Total cost of the project is expected to reach $131 million, Anderson said.