The latest groundwater results for the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant area show although slowly decreasing, unsafe levels of dinitrotoluene continue to be detected in the northeast corner of the former ammunition site in the town of Merrimac.
In September, levels of DNT were detected as high as 3.365 parts per billion – 67 times higher than the health-based standard of 0.05 parts per billion. DNT exposure has been linked with an increased risk for cancer and other illnesses.
The U.S. Army held a public meeting Nov. 28 at the Ruth Culver Community Library in Prairie du Sac, where results of a community survey, results of the most recent groundwater monitoring and a review of the human risk health assessment were unveiled.
Army representative Cathy Kropp said the community survey was issued to residents in the affected area as a way to hear their concerns and identify issues that need to be fixed as well as gather general information. Of 72 surveys handed out at the last public meeting, 25 were returned.
Kropp said 65 percent of respondents believe the Army doesn’t have a good working relationship with the communities surrounding the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant, and 96 percent want more information on cleanup efforts.
More than half – 63 percent of respondents – don’t think the program the Army is using is doing enough, and a little less than half – 46 percent – don’t think the Army is spending enough on cleanup efforts.
More than half of those surveyed were not aware documents pertaining to the Army’s plan for the property are available at the Sauk City and Ruth Culver Community libraries and 71 percent don’t know where to find information or go for questions.
Kropp said the survey conveyed the main issues and concerns residents in the area have, include a feeling of a lack of action by the Army, the presence of a groundwater plume, proper handling of cleanup, possible health effects due to the contamination and the effect of these issues on property values.
As a response, Kropp said the Army will make sure to keep an updated email list, keep publishing public meeting notices in local newspapers, send e-mail notifications when new documents are added and provide more opportunity for public comment.
Kropp said the Army kept its promise of establishing a website and is working to finalize a community involvement plan. In 2018, it will finalize remedial investigation including a human health risk assessment.
“We are phasing in this website,” Kropp said. “We look at it as the crawl, walk, run stage and we are in the crawl stage. So this is basic information we are putting out there and then with your feedback, we can improve it to with what works best and with information you really want to see on it.”
Michael J. Kelly, restoration branch chief from the U.S. Army Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, said the Army is getting into the rhythm of trying to better communicate with the public. “In the short term, no decisions are being made,” Kelly said. “As decisions are being made, we will make every opportunity for you to provide input.”
Joel Janssen of Spec Pro Professional Services reported on the results of the Army’s groundwater monitoring. Janssen said 52 residential wells were sampled in August, and all results came back stable and within standards.
He said DNT concentrates were decreasing overall in the former nitrocellulose production area. In the central plume, DNT concentrates also were decreasing, although benzene was detected in the Water’s Edge subdivision during a sampling in June. When tested again in August, benzene was not detected.
“The plume is just getting better,” Janssen said. “Overall, there are positive results there. We don’t know why benzene showed up and then didn’t show up after testing in one.”
The wells in the Badger area were tested again in mid-November, but those results were not yet ready.
In the deterrent burning ground plume, Janssen reported DNT concentrates also were decreasing overall, however one well – ELN-1502A – DNT has been increasing since 2015. That well is located at the Badger property boundary.
In the propellant burning ground plume, DNT and VOC concentrates are reported as stable or decreasing.
“For the most part, we are finding things are going better,” Janssen said.
Army representative Roger Walton said the human health risk assessment evaluates the relationship between contamination and the potential for health effects.
The assessment included hazard identification, exposure access, toxicity assessment and risk characteristics.
“It looks at whether or not we are causing more than the probability of excess cancer to increase,” Walton said. “Once you get above one in 10,000, it becomes what type of action are we going to take? It ends the debate and means remediation is necessary.”
Laura Olah, executive director for Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, said the question that remains unanswered is why after decades are source areas still contributing to groundwater contamination. She added that conducting a health risk assessment isn’t going to solve that problem.
“I think we are much better off taking these same resources and… investing in going back to these sources which are supposed to be capped and partially excavated and determining why, 75 years later, are we still seeing DNT migrating into groundwater?” Olah said. “The best action for this community is to go back and look at that and say why are the source areas still contributing to contamination to groundwater? A health risk assessment isn’t going to get us any closer to that.”