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Contaminated sites at Hill AFB set for cleanup

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — The Air Force has a plan to clean up three contaminated military weapons sites on Hill Air Force Base, including one that could potentially contain explosives.

The Air Force is currently accepting public comment on a plan to clean up three "Military Munitions Response Program" sites that are now inactive at Hill. The sites include an outdoor small arms firing range, a munitions dump and a powder burning pit.

The firing range and munitions dump both contain lead munitions debris that have been left over from years of range practices, while the burning pit contains both munitions debris and potential explosives.

All three sites are located along the eastern edge of the base.

According to the plan, which can be viewed in its entirety at www.hillrab.org/OU14ProposedPlan (PDF), the material that could theoretically pose explosive risks includes "unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions, or munitions constituents present in high enough concentrations to provide an explosive hazard."

But the report also says the explosive compounds may degrade after they are released into the environment, which can be influenced by physical conditions specific to a site, like the composition of the sediment and the presence or absence of oxygen.

As for the possibility of human lead exposure from the munitions debris, the plan says groundwater has been eliminated as a potential pathway to reach humans, but the inhalation of lead in airborne dust could reach humans who may be conducting intrusive activities like soil excavation at the sites.

Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said human lead exposure should be viewed as a great concern because even small increments can have negative effects on human intellectual capacity.

"Lead is one of the most toxic heavy metals there is — at least when talking about toxicity to the brain," Moench said. "There is no such thing as a safe exposure to lead."

The plan says multiple remediation actions were considered in the cleanup effort, but preferred remediation of the sites includes excavating contaminated soil and disposing of it at an offsite waste facility and using digital mapping to remove any explosive compounds.

The plan says that since operations at each site have been terminated, Hill and the Department of Defense have developed more stringent munitions storage, training, management, and disposal procedures that meet or exceed state and federal requirements.

A public meeting on the plan will be held at 6 p.m. March 26 in the Sunset Room of Sunset City Hall, 200 W. 1300 North, Sunset, Utah.

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