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Release Date: 01/07/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today for the first time unilaterally ordered a military base to clean up and remove unexploded ordnance. In a precedent-setting administrative order issued today [see administrative order here], EPA-New England directed the National Guard Bureau and the Massachusetts National Guard to remove unexploded ordnance from the 14,000-acre Camp Edwards training grounds at the Massachusetts Military Reservation (MMR) on Cape Cod.

The National Guard agencies were also directed to clean up contaminated groundwater, as well as contamination in soil that has not yet reached the groundwater, but threatens the aquifer.

The order was issued under emergency provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act, which protects underground supplies of drinking water, such as the Cape Cod Aquifer. This order aims to protect the health and safety of people on Cape Cod, where some 200,000 year-round residents and 520,000 summer visitors depend on the Cape Cod Aquifer as the sole source of their drinking water.

Camp Edwards lies directly over Sagamore Lens, the most productive part of Cape Cod Aquifer. Because the Cape's soil is highly permeable, this aquifer is particularly susceptible to contamination, which would pose a significant hazard to the public health.

A study conducted last year by the US Department of Defense (DOD) estimated that current water supplies will fall short of demand by about 10 million gallons a day by the year 2020. Seven existing public water supply sources are impacted or threatened by MMR training activities, and a significant number of potential new sources are impacted or threatened by contamination to MMR.

"Today's landmark action will mean the improved protection of public health and the environment for Cape Cod as that community enters the 21st Century," said EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner. "It is another sign of the Clinton/Gore Administration's strong commitment to protecting our communities from environmental threats."

An ongoing study of the effects of training on the aquifer has already found RDX in 20 monitoring wells, and above federal health advisory limits at 18 monitoring wells. RDX is a highly hazardous constituent used in explosives and rat poison. Metals above the allowable levels for drinking water were detected in 40 monitoring wells and herbicides and pesticides were detected in 31 wells, in one case above federal health advisories.

"We must act now to clean up the contamination and prevent any further damage to the water supply, said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "This order will make certain that this is done -- thoroughly and expeditiously."

To date, dozens of live unexploded ordnance have been uncovered simply through DOD's efforts to site monitoring wells associated with the water quality study. In addition, more than 1,000 mortar rounds (primarily inert) were discovered at the only range where an unexploded ordnance investigation has been conducted to date.

The first phase of the cleanup, which involves removing soil contamination in a half dozen areas, will be done by October of this year.

"For decades, the Department of Defense has conducted training activities directly above water resources vital to the people of Cape Cod,"said DeVillars. "Three years ago the Cape community asked for our help. As a result, EPA ordered the DOD to cease environmentally damaging training and to assess the harm that training had caused. Today, we are telling them to act on what we have learned from those studies. We need a comprehensive and expeditious cleanup of the extensive environmental damage caused by training activities. This order will achieve that objective."

Since 1911 Camp Edwards has hosted training that included small arms firing, artillery firing, mortar firing, the burning of propellant bags, detonation practice for explosives as well as disposal and abandonment of unexploded ordnance.

The order issued this week follows two other orders issued to the National Guard by the EPA in 1997. In February of that year, EPA ordered the Guard to investigate the extent of contamination at the 14,000-acre military base. And in April of 1997, EPA ordered a stop to much of the training activities taking place at Camp Edwards.

As a result of investigations, contamination from explosives, propellants, metals, herbicides, pesticides, volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds and unexploded ordnance were discovered in the soil and groundwater at Camp Edwards. Munitions and other materials used on the base until EPA's 1997 cease-fire order contained these contaminants.