MERRIMAC – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has advised two families near Gruber’s Grove Bay to not use their water for cooking or drinking after test results confirmed a hazardous chemical in their private wells.

Analysis of well water detected 2,6-dinitrotoluene (2,6-DNT), a compound that was used at Badger Army Ammunition Plant in the production of gun powder and rocket fuel, at concentrations above safe drinking water standards.

The WDNR said that the wells are located southeast of the plant in the Water’s Edge subdivision, just north of Gruber’s Grove Bay on Lake Wisconsin.  Both families have been offered bottled water by the U.S. Army.

Sampling of the two wells in May and June 2004, found 2,6-DNT at concentrations of 0.06 to 0.07 parts per billion (ppb).  The state Health Advisory Limit for 2,6-DNT is 0.05 ppb.  Water in the subdivision’s other wells was tested and 2,6-DNT was not detected.

While health officials said that these levels are not likely to cause adverse health effects, they have advised residents of these homes to not drink the water from their wells.  DNT can affect the blood, nervous system, liver, kidneys, and male reproductive system in both humans and animals.  DNT causes cancer in laboratory animals and is a suspected human carcinogen.

Previous testing by the Army in December 2003 also found DNT above safe standards in two private wells located one-quarter mile south of Badger along Keller Road in the nearby township of Prairie du Sac.  Testing was expanded in March 2004 to 91 private wells between Gruber’s Grove Bay and the northern edge of the Village of Prairie du Sac.

Any future testing, however, must be requested by local residents.  “The Army recently announced that it will discontinue testing your well unless you contact them and tell them you want them to keep testing it,” said Laura Olah, Executive Director of Citizens of Safe Water Around Badger (CSWAB).

The group is advising residents to request continued quarterly testing because contaminant levels often go up and down.  “Ongoing testing is the best way to know exactly what is in your water and if levels are changing over time,” Olah said.

CSWAB, a community-led organization that has worked since 1990 to get Badger cleaned up and conserved as a green space, considers bottled water a stop-gap measure, however.  “Bottled water does not stop exposure through inhalation and dermal exposure,” Olah cautions. “Immediate steps are needed to ensure water is pure and completely free from these toxins.”

Local officials agree that the military should continue testing and providing bottled water until a long-term solution is found.  On July 13, the Township of Prairie du Sac board passed resolution stating that “the U.S. Army should provide a permanent solution to guarantee groundwater and private water wells are clean and free from any contamination from Badger.”

Concerns about potential problems to the north have prompted action by the Merrimac Township board.  On August 2, the town board passed a resolution urging the Army to begin private well testing in an area extending east to Eagle Point and south to Weigand’s Bay.

“DNT has recently been detected in monitoring wells inside the northeast corner of Badger,” said Olah, a resident on Weigand’s Bay.  “Tests in January and in April of this year detected unsafe levels in groundwater at the plant boundary.”

Merrimac’s resolution asks that the Army provide free quarterly testing for DNT and other groundwater contaminants found at the closing military base.  Ethyl ether was used in the manufacture of smokeless powder and is one of the contaminants that has been detected in a number of private wells south of the plant.

“Ethyl ether was found in wells at the Gruber’s Grove subdivision, the Windings, along Hwy 78 and down to Dam Heights Road,” WDNR officials said.  “It appears to be spread out and no specific pattern can be found yet.  Hopefully the monitoring well sampling and the additional work being completed by (Army contractors) Olin and Shaw will help explain things.”

All monitoring wells and private wells will be tested for ethyl ether from now on.  “The highest level found in a private well was 150 parts per billion; the remaining private wells had levels less than 20 ppb,” Olah said.  “The WDNR said that these levels are well below the health advisory level set by the Wisconsin Division of Health of 1200 parts per billion.”

For more information, contact CSWAB at (608)643-3124 or visit their website at