Wisconsin Groundwater Standards for Explosives Could Set National Precedent

MADISON, Wisconsin, November 24, 2009 (ENS) – A move by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to set standards for a carcinogenic explosive in groundwater is being applauded by rural neighbors of the Badger Army Ammunition Plant but is expected to draw opposition from the U.S. military.

The WDNR recently received approval from the state’s Natural Resources Board to hold public hearings on the addition of 15 new substances to the state’s groundwater quality standards including all forms of dinitrotoluene, DNT – a carcinogenic explosive that has contaminated drinking water wells near the Badger Army Ammunition Plant in the rural townships of Merrimac, Sumpter and Prairie du Sac.

If approved by the legislature, Wisconsin will set a precedent for other states that could be significant for over 100 sites across the country contaminated with DNT.

Badger Army Ammunition Plant (Photo courtesy GSA)

Based on recommendations from senior toxicologists at the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, all six forms, or isomers, of DNT will be regulated as a single entity. The proposed standard is 0.05 parts per billion – equivalent to the current Health Advisory Level recommended by state health officials.

The Army opposed the establishment of the Health Advisory Level. In an August 17, 2007 submittal to the Wisconsin Division of Health, the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine wrote, “The current toxicology database for the minor isomers of DNT is not sufficient to support development of a health advisory for these isomers.”

Laura Olah, executive director of Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, said, “The lack of enforceable groundwater standards – state or federal – places disadvantaged community members at disproportionate risk, especially if they do not have the resources or capacity to pay for a new well or take other actions to protect their health.”

“If their drinking water is no longer potable, these families may be unable to sell their homes, they may lose their mortgages, and they will certainly lose value in their property,” said Olah.

The Badger Army Ammunition Plant is an excess facility located near Baraboo, Wisconsin. It manufactured nitrocellulose-based propellants during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War but is currently the site of demolition and remediation projects being conducted in preparation for property transfer. This ammunition plant was the largest in the world when it was built during World War II.

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger was organized in 1990 when rural families near the facility learned that private drinking water wells were polluted with high levels of cancer-causing solvents. The group continues to serve as a local watchdog and national advocate for military cleanups.

The group formally petitioned the state of Wisconsin to regulate all forms of DNT in 2006.

Across Wisconsin, the 2,3-DNT isomer has been detected in 103 groundwater and private water wells at concentrations as high as 2,200 parts per billion, ppb.

The 3,4-DNT isomer has been detected in 37 wells at levels as high as 419 ppb.

The 3,5-DNT isomer has been detected in 20 wells at concentrations as high as 23.9 ppb and the 2,5-DNT isomer has been detected in wells at concentrations as high as 1.5 ppb.

All of the DNT isomers have been detected in groundwater in and around Badger. DNT contamination has also been found at other sites in Wisconsin including the former DuPont Barksdale Works Site in Bayfield.

While Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger is endorsing the proposed groundwater standard for DNT, the group is hoping for a more protective standard for perchlorate – the main ingredient of rocket and missile fuel.

Perchlorate acts on the thyroid gland to inhibit its ability to make the thyroid hormones that are necessary for normal infant and childhood growth and brain development.

Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger would like the state’s proposed standard reduced from seven to one part per billion – a level that is consistent with recommendations from nonprofits such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Environmental Working Group.

As recently as September, CSWAB co-signed a nationally circulated letter encouraging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to establish a more protective reference dose and promulgation of a maximum contaminant level that is no higher than one ppb for perchlorate.

Written comments on the amendments to ch. NR 140, Wis. Adm. may be submitted until December 30, 2009 by email to: Michael.Lemcke@Wisconsin.gov. Written comments will have the same weight and effect as oral statements presented at the public hearings. For more information or a copy of the proposed rule and fiscal estimate contact Mike Lemcke at: 608-266-2104.

Public hearings on the addition of 15 new substances to the state’s groundwater quality standards will be held:

  • December 11, Madison – 10 a.m., in the State Natural Resources Building (GEF 2), Room G09, 101 South Webster St.
  • December 14, Baraboo – 10 a.m. at the Sauk County – UW Extension, West Square Administration Building, Room B30, 505 Broadway.
  • December 15, Eau Claire – 10 a.m. at the Eau Claire State Office Building, Room 139, 718 West Clairemont Ave.
  • December 15, Stevens Point – 4 p.m. at the UW-Stevens Point, Communications Arts Center, Room 211, 1101 Reserve St.
  • December 16, Oshkosh – 10 a.m. at the UW-Oshkosh, Halsey Science Center, Room 259, 921 Elmwood Ave.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.

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