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Indian Head Naval Surface Warfare Center

EPA Region 3 (Mid-Atlantic)

Charles County
Indian Head

EPA ID# MD7170024684

5th Congressional District

Last Update: January 2015

Other Names

Naval Proving Ground
Naval Powder Factory
Naval Propellant Plant
Naval Ordnance Station
Indian Head

Current Site Status

Records of Decision have been signed for seventeen of the sites that were the subjects of Remedial Investigations. Three of these were landfills which have been re-graded, capped, and re-vegetated. Several Removal Actions are underway or being considered. Remedial Investigations and / or Feasibility Studies have been completed for three other sites and draft Proposed Plans are under review and revision. Remedial Investigation field work is underway at several other sites. A no-further-action decision document was signed for eleven sites that did not warrant a Remedial Investigation. Several other sites are being studied as "site screening areas" to determine if a Remedial Investigation is appropriate. A Site Management plan has been recently updated, and a site-wide Federal Facilities Agreement is in place. A study of the Mattawaman Creek has been finalized, as has a base-wide background study. The Navy is currently evaluating former firing ranges and other training areas as part of the Munitions Response Program. Preliminary Site Investigations have been completed base wide and more detailed site investigations or Remedial Investigations are underway for several sites. Three RODs were signed in 2014 addressing two areas of contaminated groundwater and one former landfill.

Site Description

The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Indian Head Division (NSWC) is located in northwestern Charles County, Maryland approximately 25 miles southwest of Washington, D.C. The facility consists of the main area on the Cornwallis Neck Peninsula and the Stump Neck Annex. The main area consists of approximately 2,500 acres and is bounded by the Potomac River to the west and north, the Mattawoman Creek to the south, and the town of Indian Head to the east. The Stump Neck Annex is located across the Mattawoman Creek and contains an additional 1,000 acres. NSWC was established in 1890 as the Naval Proving Ground, with the mission of testing explosives and propellents. Over its 100 year history of operations, the facility has manufactured a variety of munitions chemicals such as smokeless powder, ammonium picrate, nitroglycerine, and nitrocellulose. Quantities of sulfuric and nitric acids have been used in the various manufacturing processes.

Manufacturing, testing, loading, and assembly operations at the site have generated a variety of explosive, reactive, and hazardous wastes. In the past, some of these waste products were routinely dumped into pits and landfills on the facility or burned in open burning grounds. Industrial wastewaters were routinely discharged to septic systems and to open ditches and storm sewers that emptied directly to surrounding water bodies.

A number of possible contaminant sites have been identified within the facility. These generally fall into one of the following categories: releases of mercury from testing procedures, releases of silver from X-ray processes and manufacturing, solvent spills and disposal areas, open burning grounds, land disposal units, and discharges of industrial wastewater containing hazardous elements.

Site Responsibility
The site is being addressed through Federal actions.
NPL Listing History
Proposed Date: 02/13/95
Final Date: 09/29/95

Threats and Contaminants

Ground water and soil are contaminated with elemental and waste mercury, silver, and lead. Areas of soils highly contaminated with volatile organic compounds have been identified and removed. Groundwater contamination associated with these areas has been investigated and is being treated. Several old landfills exist on base. Coming into direct contact with or ingesting contaminated ground water or soil may pose a health threat to people. Several endangered marine and wetland species, including the bald eagle, are found in the areas around the Mattawoman Creek and the Potomac River.

Contaminant descriptions and risk factors are available from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, an arm of the CDC.

Cleanup Progress

Threat Mitigated by Physical Cleanup Work

Site contaminants are being addressed under the Department of Defense's Installation Restoration Program and numerous site-wide studies have been done to date. These include an Initial Assessment Study, a Supplemental Preliminary Assessment Report, a Site Inspection, and a Confirmation Study. Other studies have focused on a particular area of interest such as a landfill or contaminated soils area. As a result, 16 sites are currently in the Remedial Investigation phase. Approximately 10 other sites are slated for additional limited sampling to determine if a full-scale Remedial Investigation is warranted. Concurrent with these investigations, the Navy has successfully conducted five removal actions to date. Three of these involved the excavation of contaminated soils to prevent further transport of toxic metals into the environment. Another involved slip-lining a sewer pipe and was designed to prevent the escape of volatile organic compounds into the environment and was completed in the Fall of 1999. Several additional removal actions are planned to address contamination sources. A Pilot study has been completed at one site of contaminated groundwater, and a Record of Decision has been completed for another groundwater contamination site. Lastly, the Town Gut Landfill was properly closed in the Spring of 2003 and closure of the Olsen Road Landfill was completed in the summer of 2006. RODs have been signed in 2010 for two other sites characterized by groundwater contamination. An active remediation remedy involving in situ treatment of VOCs has been selected for one and a long-term monitoring plan for metals contamination in groundwater (following a contaminate source removal action) has been selected for the other. Three additional RODs were signed in 2011. Two addressed closed landfills and the third documented the selection of soils removal and off-site disposal as the remedy for an area contaminated with mercury and lead. A long-term treatability study was completed for an area of VOC contaminated groundwater. A Proposed Plan was issued selecting in situ treatment as the preferred remedy and a ROD has been signed by the Navy. Remedial action has begun at Sites 57 and 47, both are areas of contaminated groundwater and Remedial Investigation has been completed at Site 66, a waste disposal area. Three other RODs were signed in 2014 addressing two areas of contaminated groundwater and one former landfill.


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