July 14, 2014

Fort Jackson officials: groundwater contaminant not a threat

Fort Jackson has contaminants in its groundwater.

Fort Jackson has contaminants in its groundwater. (Credit: Lindsay Street)

Fort Jackson’s commanding general and other officials told reporters Friday that a pollutant found in the groundwater on base is not a health threat to those on base or the nearby residents.

Despite initial reports showing the pollutant is lower than the safest level determined by the Environmental Protection Agency, Fort Jackson has sent out notices to 24 neighboring residents requesting to test their well water to determine if it has migrated beyond the base. Those notices went out this week.

The contaminant, called Royal Demolition Explosive or RDX, was recorded along the southern area of the base and the McCrady Training Center, where soldiers practice with hand grenades. RDX is a demolition component in grenades. While RDX is a carcinogen and can cause seizures in high doses, base officials said the levels found on base are at 0.78 parts per billion — the safe level is below 2 parts per billion. Officials said no drinking well waters on base had the contaminant and, even if it did, it would be at levels safe enough to drink.

Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker addressed reporters Friday regarding a study that found RDX in the groundwater on base.

Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker addressed reporters Friday regarding a study that found RDX in the groundwater on base. (Credit: Lindsay Street)

As many as 100,000 grenades are detonated on the base each year, according to Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker. The base has been in operation for 90 years. While levels may be low now, Becker said there is concern those levels can build in the future.

“The results of our assessment are encouraging. Although there are detectable levels of munitions components from operational ranges near the installation boundary, they are below the EPA health advisory levels,” Becker said. “We are first and foremost committed to transparency in everything we do. We want to make sure that RDX is not migrating off the installation.”

The contaminant was discovered during Phase II of a large scale, multi-phase program being conducted at military installations nationwide.

The Operational Range Assessment Program (ORAP) was established by the Department of Defense in 2004 to determine what, if any, impact various ammunition chemicals, used during routine military training may have on the environment. For the Army, this program is run by the U.S. Army Environmental Command. Fort Jackson is one of many installations that began participating in the ORA phase I qualitative assessments in 2006 and began the second phase assessments in 2012.

A preliminary report of the 2012 phase was released to the base in June 2013. Officials told reporters that they have been digesting the information since, and are now ready to begin testing outside the base to check for migration of the contaminant.

A final report will come out in December.

In the mid 20th century, another military installation exposed those living at Camp Lejeune, N.C., to the volatile organic compounds trichloroethylene, a metal degreaser, and perchloroethylene, a dry cleaning agent. Lawsuits followed into years of legal battles as veterans and their families reported health problems due to the contaminants.

At Fort Jackson, no one in the nearby community or on base has reported a problem with well water in the area, according to post officials.

Fort Jackson officials said they plan to collect the samples the first two weeks of December. They will notify the property owners of the results approximately four weeks later. If RDX is detected above risk-based levels, “appropriate action” will be taken, according to a press release from the base.

Fort Jackson Enironmental Management Chief Barbara Williams said that action would include switching to bottled water or carbon filters but that action will likely be unnecessary.

“Once again, we don’t expect it to be above 2.0. If it’s not above 2.0 on the range, we do not expect it to be above 2.0 on a general drinking well,” Williams said.

But action steps will be taken to prevent more RDX from leaching into groundwater, she added.

“We want to take preventive measures and we are doing research on that now,” Williams said. She added that possibly adding a trench with a mulch that would “knock down the numbers” of contaminants as it passes could be a solution.

Post officials are trying to get 25 nearby residents to submit their well water for testing, but are first starting with reaching out to 24. Williams said they cannot compel residents to undergo testing, and if other nearby residents would like their water tested, officials would consider testing there.

A town hall meeting with area residents is set for 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Weston Lake Community House.