Four uncommon forms of the explosive Dinitrotoluene (DNT) have been detected in hundreds of monitoring and water supply wells in and around Badger Army Ammunition Plant, prompting the State of Wisconsin to look into potential health risks including cancer.
According to a recent letter from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR), the forms of the suspected human carcinogen are 2,3-, 2,5-, 3,4-, and 3,5-DNT.
The May 4 letter from Todd Ambs, Administrator of the Division of Water, asks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Henry Anderson (Wisconsin Bureau of Public Health) to establish interim health standards to help in the investigation of groundwater contamination caused by the Army and to help determine if the water from affected wells is safe to drink.
Wisconsin does not currently have standards for these 4 forms (isomers) of DNT. Wisconsin’s safe drinking water standard for the more common isomers of DNT (2,4- and 2,6-) is set at only 0.05 parts per billion based on cancer risks.
According to Ambs’ letter, the 2,3-DNT isomer has been detected in 103 wells (3 private water supply and 100 monitoring/groundwater extraction), at concentrations as high as 2,200 parts per billion.
The 3,4-DNT isomer has been detected in 37 wells (1 private water supply and 36 monitoring) at concentrations as high as 419 parts per billion. In December 2006, the U.S. Army reported that low levels of 3,4-DNT were found in groundwater monitoring wells located north of the Village of Prairie du Sac, more than a mile from the plant boundary.
The 3,5-DNT isomer has been detected in 20 wells (1 private water supply and 19 monitoring) at concentrations as high as 23.9 ug/l. The 2,5-DNT isomer has been detected in 19 wells (1 private water supply and 18 monitoring) at concentrations as high as 1.5 parts per billion.
The recent action by WDNR is long overdue and was finally resolved when Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB) intervened. The community-based group is pressing the WDNR for a proactive response that will prevent exposures to even low levels of DNT, especially to infants and children who are most vulnerable to environmental pollutants.
CSWAB is also pressing the Army to test for other explosives that were historically dumped in waste pits at Badger, including TNT, RDX, and HMX. TNT and RDX are possible human carcinogens; animal studies suggest HMX is toxic to humans and may cause liver and central nervous system damage. The Army has refused to test water supplies for these contaminants despite recommendations from state health officials to do so. WDNR officials have also refused to order the necessary testing.
Community members are urged to contact CSWAB to receive a free Action Alert asking Governor Doyle to prioritize children’s health and drinking water quality. Email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone (608)643-3124 to receive your postcard mailing. So far, CSWAB has received almost 300 responses.
Health officials estimate that the requested health advisory levels will be set within one month, if not sooner.