Army Deer Study Is Inconclusive

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A new technical review by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has found that concentrations of the explosive DNT may be increasing in groundwater in the rural town of Merrimac.  Residential areas that may be in the path of contamination originating from Badger Army Ammunition Plant are the Inspiration Drive Area and the Weigand’s Bay Area, the January 2009 report says. So far, the Army has not found unsafe levels of DNT in private wells that it has tested.

A pivotal human health study evaluating the potential uptake of residual explosives by deer has been found to be inconclusive.  An independent technical review has determined that an oft-cited Army study is not able to confirm or deny whether it is safe to eat the deer from the Badger Army Ammunition Plant.

In response to renewed pressure from the U.S. Army to weaken required soil cleanup goals, rural neighbors of the Badger plant hired an independent consultant to review a deer tissue study which the military says supports their position.  Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB) asked Environmental Stewardship Concepts, a Virginia-based firm with expertise in environmental health issues, to review the Army report.

“We want to make sure that environmental cleanup at military bases like Badger is protective of human health,” said Laura Olah, Executive Director of CSWAB.  “Our goal is to ensure that regulators, future owners, and community members are aware of any potential shortcomings in the Army’s studies.”

The Army study was designed to determine whether the deer at the Badger site contained two common forms of the explosive Dinitrotoluene (DNT) in their tissues at concentrations that would be unsuitable for human consumption. The study focused on examining the presence of DNT in the liver, muscle and heart tissues of the deer.

“As a former army ammunition plant, the Badger site was exposed to 2,4 and 2,6-DNT however other forms of DNT are also present on the site but were not considered in this study,” said Dr. Peter deFur, president of Environmental Stewardship Concepts. “The problem is that the design provides results of limited use and applicability.”

DeFur is not the only one critical of the deer study.  Army officials with the Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine have also described the Badger study as having analytical detection limits that were “not sufficiently low to allow an accurate estimation of the levels of explosives that had bioaccumulated.”

In addition to Badger, the 1991 study has been cited in risk assessments for military facilities across the U.S. including Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in Kansas, Weldon Spring Ordnance Works in Missouri, Fort McClellan in Alabama, and the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB) was organized in 1990 when rural families near Wisconsin’s Badger Army Ammunition Plant learned that private drinking water wells were polluted with high levels of cancer-causing solvents.  The group continues to serve as a local watchdog
and national leader on military cleanups.

Dr. Peter L. deFur serves as a technical advisor to citizen organizations and government agencies. He is an Affiliate Associate Professor in the Center for Environmental Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University where he conducts research on environmental health and ecological risk assessment.

DeFur’s complete report and the Army’s deer study are available online at www.cswab.org.

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