Meeting focuses on quality of water near Radford Army Ammunition Plant

By LAURENCE HAMMACK | The Roanoke Times, Va. | Published: January 25, 2013

ROANOKE, Va. — A public meeting to discuss possible contaminated drinking water near the Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia drew about 20 people Thursday night, including one man who brought a plastic jug filled with his tap water.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry held the meeting at Belview Elementary School as part of an evaluation it began last year at the request of a local environmental group.

There was no detailed presentation or new information released at the meeting, which instead consisted of Jill Dyken, an environmental health scientist with the agency, speaking one-one-one with residents about their concerns.

For years, some residents have worried that traces of hazardous waste — the remains of making ammunition that were dumped on plant grounds years ago, before current environmental regulations took effect — may have found their way into the wells of nearby homes.

Devawn Oberlender of Environmental Patriots of the New River Valley, the organization that requested the federal investigation, also expressed concerns about air pollution from an open burning ground at the plant where waste is incinerated.

Oberlender was disappointed that the possible air pollution will not be included in the evaluation.

"It's a beautiful step in the right direction," she said of the agency's decision to examine ground and surface water that flows from the arsenal. "But it's about half a step."

Officials with the Agency for Toxic Substances say they conduct evaluations when there is existing sampling data, which was only the case with water in the area.

The agency said earlier that chemicals have been measured in the groundwater "at certain areas of the site that may be related to industrial or waste disposal processes used at the base."

While some contamination has been confirmed, health and environment officials have said there is no evidence of a public health danger to the surrounding community.

In an earlier statement, arsenal officials said they closely monitor emissions and groundwater in accordance with Army regulations and state and federal laws and have found no contamination.

"These systems safeguard the New River and the health and safety of our community," the statement read.

As part of a lengthy cleanup process, the Environmental Protection Agency has identified 77 areas where hazardous waste was once stored. Eleven of those sites were found to contain "contamination at unacceptable levels" that required action, such as digging up tainted soil and hauling it away.

Waste identified by the EPA includes TNT, DNT, nitroglycerin, lead, chromium, cadmium, perchlorates and volative materials.

While there is some contaminated groundwater beneath the arsenal, the EPA said in a 2011 report, "current data do not suggest that off-site groundwater has been impacted."

Nonetheless, residents of the nearby area who showed up for the meeting welcomed a closer inspection.

Carrie Kroehler of Blacksburg said her concerns were based in part on reports from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality that the arsenal is the No. 1 source of toxic emissions in Virginia. Most of those emissions involve nitrates released into the New River as part of the plant's treated wastewater. DEQ officials have said those releases comply with the arsenal's permit and do not pose a risk.

"I'm not convinced that meeting the regulatory requirements is necessarily the same as not being dangerous to human health or environmental health," Kroehler said.

Teddy Thompson came the meeting carrying a gallon jug of water drawn from the tap of his home, about a mile from the arsenal. "It's starting to concern us about what this is," he said of the water, which he avoids drinking.

Also attending the meeting was a representative from the office of U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem.

It will be a least a year before the Agency for Toxic Substances, an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, completes its evaluation.


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