CHATTANOOGA – Redstone Arsenal’s past and future intertwine as the Installation Restoration Branch cleans up legacy waste and the Garrison prepares areas for future development.
Jason Watson, munitions response program manager for the Garrison’s Environmental Management Division, Directorate of Public Works, delivered a keynote address and participated in a panel discussion at the Tennessee Valley Corridor National Summit in Chattanooga, May 30.
“What were accepted hazardous waste disposal practices in the past causes us problems as we clean up areas of the Arsenal for reuse,” he said.
During World War II, the Huntsville Arsenal, Redstone Ordnance Plant and the Gulf Chemical Warfare Depot worked together to manufacture and supply ordnance for the war effort. Following the war, over 1 million munitions were received under the Ammunition Received From Overseas Program. Most of the munitions were demilitarized, but standard practices at the time have left a very hazardous footprint. What remains is a legacy of nearly 6 miles of trenches where items are buried.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the race to space initiated a new mission resulting in the repurposing of existing structures, the construction of new facilities, test stands, test areas, railways and roadways. In the rush to build quickly, dangerous munitions were moved when required but many items were left underground. These remaining metallic anomalies are a major safety hazard when repairing subsurface portions of the Arsenal’s seven decades old infrastructure.
Following years of archival research and data collection, Restoration Branch workers are executing a plan to remediate lands with hazardous risks and are using a prioritization that considers future mission needs. To date, over 700 acres have been restored and made available for redevelopment. Intrusive and transport activities are executed at night to mitigate danger to the workforce. Technologies such as X and gamma ray remote sensing equipment for assessment and the Explosive Destruction System for the contained treatment of munitions are being used to find and destroy hazardous items.
“Our effort will cost approximately $1.1 billion and will allow us to reclaim over 3,000 acres, not only providing more space for our missions, but also mitigating some of the dangers that are below the surface which will cause problems in the future,” Watson said.
Some of the recovered land has been used for FBI projects, improvements of Marshall Space Flight Center test stands and the Standard Missile Production Facility, among others.
Explosives are routinely discovered and safely disposed of “but occasionally, we’ll begin digging and the ground will immediately start smoking due to the discovery of white phosphorous. We’ll have to quickly cover that item and implement additional safety measures. It can be very exciting,” Watson said.
While today’s efforts concentrate on recovering the land which is the most hazardous and desirable for future needs, the cleanup mission is so immense that it will continue well into the 2030s.