Old Drinking Water System Placed Badger Workers at Risk

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The drinking water supply for thousands of former Badger Army Ammunition Plant workers had “hundreds of direct connections” between the potable and process water distribution systems. As a result, the potential existed for contaminated process water to discharge into the potable water system. Unable to get a response from local Army officials, CSWAB is demanding that health officials, regulators, and Army headquarters investigate the potential risks to human health.

The water supply system at Badger Army Ammunition Plant historically had “hundreds of direct connections” between the process water piping and production tanks and vessels separated only by gate valves. Constructed in 1942, the original system had numerous construction non-conformities with current Wisconsin potable water codes. Major among these were cross-connections with sewers and process piping systems and an open treated water reservoir.

According to a public records search by CSWAB, the potable water system in production areas which utilized large volumes of water, including the acid, nitroglycerin, and rocket productions areas, had little or no backflow protection. As a result, the potential existed for recycled recovered water to discharge into the potable water system utilized by thousands of workers at the former military base.

At two consecutive public meetings, CSWAB asked Badger officials to provide documentation to the public and the local township showing that nonconformities at the base have been resolved. Because the information has not been forthcoming, CSWAB has sent formal inquiries to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) and the Commander of the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion & Preventive Medicine (USACHPPM) in Maryland regarding the current status of all wells and water supply systems at Badger.

An interim reply from the WDNR said that the agency will be “inspecting the Badger systems within the next few weeks.” CSWAB has also sent a formal inquiry to the Wisconsin Division of Health asking for an investigation of the potential risks to people that worked at Badger prior to the 1990’s.

In 1986, the U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency determined that a viable cross-connection control/backflow prevention program was “sorely needed at this installation.” Prior to 1988, the water supply systems at Badger Army Ammunition Plant never officially received State approval to operate. According to historical documents, the WDNR designated the water supply system at Badger as a “non-community supply” and no monitoring requirements were imposed upon the installation. Army officials said Badger voluntarily tested drinking water however CSWAB has been unable to get access to these records.

It was not until 1990 that the “first phase” of a separate potable water system was constructed to serve the 225 maintenance and administrative staff members then working at Badger. One of the steps in this changeover, the conversion of one of the existing wells to a potable water supply for the administration buildings was accomplished at this time, WDNR records said. Employees were subsequently directed and trained, Army records said, to only drink water from the new potable water system.

Some active buildings and lavatories are still provided water from the main process water system but employees do not drink it anymore, Army records said. The Army said that using process water for flushing toilets and washing hands in latrine lavatories has been “concurred with” by the State Plumbing Inspector.

At some point, the drinking water system at the Conservation Club was also considered nonpotable and “Caution, Nonpotable Water, Do Not Drink” signs were placed above the lavatories in the building, public records said.

In 1992, the WDNR reported that Badger had still not provided the State with a comprehensive plan for the separation of the potable drinking water system and production system. The separation was necessary, WDNR said, to “eliminate back-siphonage and cross-connection contamination.”

This same year, the Army wrote that “no Badger employees in the future will drink water from the old process water system.”

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