Between April 5, 2000 and August 30, 2001, total nitrogen discharges from Badger Army Ammunition Plant’s sanitary wastewater facility violated permit limitations 133 times. Even with so-called “tweaking” of the system in recent years, it fails to meet the Daily Maximum Limit of 10 mg/l (milligrams per liter) for discharge to groundwater. According to Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB), the exceedance levels ranged from 10.14 to 26.33 mg/l. Overall, the average exceedance was more than 16 mg/l.
Although Badger’s sanitary system has violated nitrogen limits for many years, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) officials said they have hesitated to enforce environmental standards because the future of the Badger facility has been an unknown. Now that future use seems more certain, the WDNR said it intends to meet with Army officials and encourage them to seek outside professional expertise to improve the current system’s performance. Badger’s in-house staff has not been able to solve the problem, WDNR said.
Nitrate is a water-soluble molecule made up of nitrogen and oxygen. High nitrate levels in drinking water pose a risk to infants. Infants who are fed water or formula made with water that is high in nitrate can develop a condition called methemoglobinemia. The condition is also called “blue baby syndrome” because the skin appears blue-gray and is caused by a lack of oxygen in the blood. Wisconsin’s safe drinking water standard for nitrates is 10 mg/l measured as nitrogen.
“According to the Wisconsin Department of Health and Social Services, scientific studies have found evidence suggesting that women who drink nitrate-contaminated water during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with birth defects,” said Laura Olah, Executive Director of CSWAB. “Some experts believe that long-term ingestion of water high in nitrate may increase the risk of certain types of cancer.”
The WDNR admits Badger is not being treated the same as other local wastewater treatment systems. In Sauk County, the agency has required the Village of Merrimac and Devil’s Head Resort to upgrade their systems to meet current groundwater standards. Permits for both these facilities will likely be issued in the next month or two. The Ho-Chunk facility near Wisconsin Dells has a new system that is also meeting all the standards, WDNR said.
There are a number of newer technologies that can readily achieve the nitrate discharge standard, WDNR said. A full upgrade of Badger’s current system would probably cost $1-2 million and would likely take as long as 4 years to get in place and fully operational, they added. Improving the current system will be necessary to protect groundwater resources in the interim years. Such improvements could be accomplished with a relatively small amount of money, the WDNR said.
Badger’s municipal wastewater treatment plant discharges to Final Creek and is a permitted groundwater discharge. The facility receives wastewater from Badger’s administration buildings and Bluffview, a housing development directly west across US 12, serving about 500 people. Average flow is 56,000 gallons per day.
The WDNR said it intends to treat the Army the same as other local owner/operators and will require an upgrade that meets environmental health standards. CSWAB has asked that this process be initiated as soon as possible.
“The Army should be held to the same standards as everyone else,” Olah said. “The health of our community and our future depends on it.”