Outdoor enthusiasts now have new land to explore on Redstone Arsenal.
This fall, the Directorate of Public Works released around 300 acres to Family and MWR Outdoor Recreation for hunting use. That makes more than 1,000 acres of land that has been cleared of potential munitions and cleaned of hazardous materials by DPW’s Environmental Restoration Division.
For the past four decades, the team has worked to identify sites with contamination using historical records and known disposal or contamination release areas deemed hazardous. Due to Redstone Arsenal’s proficiency at munition manufacturing and disposal, 1.5 million munitions were transported to Redstone to be disposed of after World War II. Those disposal methods – while legal at the time – have proven to be problematic as technology and time advanced.
“The north Thiokol and south Thiokol production facility is where we made lots of different rockets,” Clint Howard, Environmental Restoration Division branch chief, said. “We made Patriot missiles, we made different things Thiokol built for the Army. A lot of those areas required heavy use of rocket fuels and lots of solvents out there. The reason we used solvents is when you put the rocket fuel into the rocket bodies, all of those parts have to be super clean so we have these big deep pits. We would dip the rocket body down in there, make sure it is clean and inject the solid rocket fuel. So these areas had a lot of contamination in the soil and underground because we had lots of spills out there – some of the tanks would leak and some of the pits would leak.”
In its efforts, the team has specifically concentrated on possible off-post groundwater migration. They determined areas called “hot spots” of volatile organic compound contamination from former degreasing operations and used a technique called electric resistive heating to remove approximately 52,000 pounds of volatile organic compound between 2015 and 2017.
Part of the goal of ensuring that the land is clean and clear is to make it mission-ready and available to Redstone tenants – and future tenants. The growth of Redstone in the past decade has ensured that the environmental team plays an essential role in determining that the land is safe for construction. Currently they are focusing on such areas as the Marshall Space Flight Center test stands.
“We have to be involved in a lot of (NASA) repair and construction projects due to the burial sites in that general area and we would rather not be involved,” Jason Watson, project manager, said with a laugh.
The team performed a study about 12 years ago that identified around 960 sites of possible contamination. Of those sites, they determined that 432 required investigation, with 17 being high-profile munition sites from World War II.
“Of those 432, we’ve knocked out 187 that we investigated and required no further action,” Howard said. “We have about 140 active sites that we are
working on and the other 100 or so sites will be deferred to either range closer, operational site closure or the groundwater unit site.”
It is a large undertaking with a sizeable budget of between $20-30 million per year. Redstone – as one of the two most contaminated installations in the United States along with Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland – receives 1/8 of the entire Army’s environmental cleanup budget.
Working with the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, the team is making strides toward no longer being the top of that list. Although Howard said there are areas which will always have land use controls on them, “people are safe on Redstone and people are safe living close to Redstone.”
“We have spent lots of money and we’ve done lots of studies. We have monitored soils, we have done vapor intrusion studies where we have gone into office buildings on post and people’s houses, streets and yards off post and made sure there are no vapors or anything migrating up out of the soil that could pose any potential dangers to anyone. They are safe.”