Water pollution issue resurfaces at Fort Jackson

By SAMMY FRETWELL | The (Columbia, S.C.) State | Published: June 20, 2014

COLUMBIA, SC — The U.S. Army is working to protect private drinking water supplies near Fort Jackson after finding elevated levels of a seizure-causing chemical in wells that serve five homes near the expansive military site.

Fort Jackson released the results of well water tests this week, showing that royal demolition explosive, or RDX, had been detected in higher amounts than the military base found during well water tests earlier this year.

The area of concern is along the fort’s southern boundary, east of Weston Lake and south of Leesburg Road. Two other chemicals also were detected in recent test results.

With the finding of elevated RDX levels in drinking water, the Army began providing bottled water to the affected homes May 21, Fort Jackson officials announced this week.

The next step is to install filtration systems for homes served by the tainted wells and to treat the ground on part of Fort Jackson with lime to neutralize the spread of RDX off the military installation.

“The overarching concern was the safety of the soldiers and the civilians on post, as well as residents off post,” military spokesman Patrick Jones said in an email, attributing the comment to Fort Jackson Col. Michael Graese. Fort officials held a public meeting earlier this week for residents to outline the latest findings.

The Leesburg Road area is served partially by Columbia city water, but other areas along the thoroughfare are served only by well water. This week’s revelation is disturbing news for Fort Jackson’s neighbors, who had been assured in February that chemicals found in groundwater were within safe levels.

“This totally concerns me,’’ said Carol Roberts, a Lower Richland resident who said she was unaware of the latest test results and assumes her well is safe. “Is this all going to stay ok? Bottled water is not going to be a solution.’’

Roberts said she worries that if the contamination spreads to her property, it could affect livestock she keeps, including goats that provide milk and cheese for her family.

RDX is a man-made compound that can cause seizures in people who swallow substantial amounts. It also is considered a possible human carcinogen. A key ingredient in hand grenades, RDX may have been used on Fort Jackson for troop training since the 1940s. It still is used in the estimated 100,000 live grenades troops throw as part of their training each year, fort officials have said.

While RDX contamination is suspected of spreading from the base, Fort Jackson and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are investigating to learn more about past training activities. The email from Jones said “large portions” of land south of Leesburg Road were leased to the Army in the 1950s.

The Corps also will install 15 groundwater monitoring wells along the fort’s southern border and three wells at the Remagen hand grenade range.

Well test results from January showed that drinking water was safe, but the Army conducted more tests this past spring and discovered elevated levels of RDX, according to a power point presentation from Fort Jackson. The fort announced last November that it had found groundwater pollution in an area where troops train.

According to test results from early May, RDX levels exceeded the EPA’s health advisory level of 2 parts per billion in two wells that serve five homes. Another pollutant, high melting explosive, showed up in four well samples, while nitrotoluene NT was detected in another.

High-melting explosive is a man-made chemical that explodes at temperatures exceeding 534 degrees, according to the Delaware Division of Public Health. Little is known about its health effects, but it is suspected of causing liver damage. Nitrotoluene NT is used to produce other chemicals and is a suspected human carcinogen, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program.

State Rep. Jimmy Bales, a Democrat who represents lower Richland County, said he believes the fort’s actions will neutralize future threats, but he conceded that polluted drinking water is a concern. Some residents have contacted him this spring with questions, he said.

“I don’t think I would want to drink the water,’’ said Bales, a Virginia native who trained at Fort Jackson more than 50 years ago.

Fort Jackson is an army training base that hugs Leesburg Road in southeast Columbia. It is the largest site of its kind in the country, training about one third of all soldiers who enter the Army each year, according to Military.com.


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