GRAFENWÖHR, Germany — The large grassy hill beside the tank trail at Grafenwöhr Training Area might look like an old landfill. The sign as motorists pass the entrance might even say “landfill.” But, according to Army officials, the landfill is no longer a landfill.

“It is used for the segregation and shredding of waste prior to the delivery to a German waste incineration plant,” U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwöhr spokeswoman Susanne Bartsch wrote in an e-mail.

The site, Bartsch said, is now used for the collection and storage of larger amounts of hazardous waste that are later picked up by a licensed contractor and disposed of.

It poses no risk to the environment, she said.

But members of the environmental activist group Zusammenschluss umweltbewusster Bürger, or ZUB, disagree. They say the old landfill is poisoning the groundwater, and they’d like to see the trash removed.

On the site are the remains of an on-post landfill that houses trash dumped by the Army between 1969 and 2000.

The waste is located in two sections. An old dump, used from 1969 to 1991, includes 712,000 cubic meters of trash that was capped and sealed with a clay layer in the 1990s. A newer landfill, built in 1991, was used until 1999 and contains 90,000 cubic meters of trash. That landfill contains no ammunition or hazardous waste, she said.

Since 1999, on-post trash from Grafenwöhr, Vilseck and Hohenfels has been shredded at the landfill site and then burned at an incineration plant at Schwandorf, Bartsch said.

“Recyclable items (metal, glass, paper, cardboard, plastic, waste wood, construction debris, etc.) are collected by a private contractor and are recycled,” she said.

The current trash collection isn’t what bothers ZUB founder Rainer Knoll. Knoll says the old landfill contains ammunition and dioxin-contaminated ashes of burned ammunition boxes that are contaminating the local water supply.

But Bartsch said even if there were ammunition boxes in the old dump, remediation measures that comply with German environmental laws keep the landfill’s contents from affecting the groundwater.

“Methane wells were installed and the gas is now burned in a high temperature torch. The leachate water is collected by a ring drainage system,” she said. Additionally, “19 groundwater wells located around the landfill allow monitoring of the groundwater quality on a continuous basis and are a tool to prove that the rehabilitation measures are effective.”

The Army, which said it tests the wells regularly, does not release results to the public. Instead, it supplies them to German authorities, Bartsch said.

“The performed rehabilitation measure was selected and approved by host-nation authorities as the most effective for the geological and hydro-geological conditions found,” Bartsch said.

However, Knoll claimed the landfill continues to leak heavy metals such as copper into local groundwater. He provided a copy of a report prepared for the Army by the German Instut Fur Umweltgeologie Und Altlasten GMBH that shows excessive levels of pollution in water taken from test wells in 2005 and 2006. The report states that remediation should be done to lower the pollution found in the wells, which contained dangerous levels of copper and quicksilver and high levels of cadmium.

But Dr. Hans Jürgen Seibold of the Government of the Upper Palatinate said in an e-mail the old landfill does not endanger groundwater reservoirs. The heavy metal contamination in the area is a natural phenomenon, and ground water contamination from the landfill is closely contained and controlled, he said.

“Minimal mercury contaminations outside the landfill were remediated; there are no signs of significant additional areas of contamination,” he said.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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