Open Burning of Buildings at Badger: A Solution or More Pollution?

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On June 19, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) met privately with representatives of the U.S. Army, General Services Administration, and Plexus Scientific Corporation, a consulting firm working for the military.  The Army, as part of the decontamination and demolition process at Badger, contracted with Plexus to evaluate buildings on the installation for residual explosive risk.

According to WDNR staff present at the meeting, open burning is being discussed as a means to decontaminate highly sensitive buildings where nitroglycerine and nitrocellulose are present in raw form or have permeated wooden structural members.  Residual nitrocellulose and nitroglycerine could be an explosive risk to workers and other onsite personnel performing building demolition, salvaging, or related activities.  One means of addressing this residual contamination is burning the buildings.  This approach, however, places the environment and human health at risk.

According to a Plexus report prepared for the Army at Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in Kansas, open burning of explosive-contaminated structures produces toxic emissions including nitrous oxide.  “Open burning will also cause the release of hazardous materials such as asbestos, lead, zinc, and potentially harmful combustion products from electrical materials, preservative coatings on equipment, paints, plastics, and other construction materials into the atmosphere and potentially into soils, groundwater, and surface water,” the Plexus report said.

The 1996 report, which was submitted to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for review, found that burning is “not environmentally friendly.” “During an open burning materials are changed from a solid form and are released to the atmosphere where they will certainly be deposited over a large area resulting in contamination of soil and surface water,” Plexus said.

Exposure to airborne vapors and dust generated during burning is also a potential risk to workers and others who might be exposed to toxic emissions and nearby plants and animals; deposited materials could affect both soil and surface water bodies in the area surrounding the burn site, Plexus concluded.

So far, only preliminary work has been conducted at a few of the buildings at Badger and the Army has not come forward with a formal proposal at this time, the WDNR said.  Preliminary findings indicated, however, that approximately 100 buildings could be considered for open burning.

Munitions: CSWAB Background Documents

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