Badger Commission Pushes Army on Soil Testing for Explosives

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Government officials took action last night calling for improved testing for explosives which have caused widespread groundwater contamination at the closing Badger Army Ammunition Plant.

Members of the Badger Oversight Management Commission – which include representatives of local, state, federal and tribal government – voted to send a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) supporting its efforts to require the U.S. Army to test soils for all six forms of the explosive dinitrotoluene (DNT).

While the Army regularly tests groundwater for all six forms of DNT, it has limited soil testing to only two forms (isomers) of the carcinogenic compound.  As a result, the total amount of DNT in surface and subsurface soils left by the Army could be significantly underestimated.

The commission – which includes representatives of Sauk County, U.S. Department of Agriculture, State of Wisconsin, Ho-Chunk Nation, Town of Sumpter, Town of Merrimac, and others – is guided by the Badger Reuse Plan.  In its letter to WDNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, the commission cited language in the Reuse Plan which calls for the Army to “complete the highest quality cleanup” and assure that land transfers “do not entail the transfer of unforeseen cleanup responsibilities or liabilities to any party other than the federal government.”

The action was prompted by the U.S. Army’s refusal to comply with the WDNR’s September 15 directive to look for all the forms of DNT in soil.  The military issued a formal letter and press release on October 11 saying that it could not justify spending already limited funds to test for the additional forms of DNT.  Soon after, the WDNR temporarily recanted the order pending additional input from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“If additional forms of DNT or other significant contaminants are detected in soils, we believe that the Army should be required to develop cleanup goals that are protective of all anticipated future uses at Badger including grazing, recreation, camping, hunting and fishing, agriculture, wildlife habitat and other land uses consistent with the Badger Reuse Plan,” the commission concluded.

DNT can affect the blood, nervous system, liver, kidneys, and male reproductive system in both humans and animals, and is a suspected human carcinogen.  Published studies indicate that the four less common isomers of DNT are “as toxic or more toxic than 2,4-DNT and 2,6-DNT,” according to the Wisconsin Division of Public Health.

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