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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pollution report clears Army

There is no evidence linking past military activity at a former anti-aircraft missile battery in the Deep Creek area west of Spokane to groundwater contamination, including two chemicals found in solid rocket fuel, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report concludes.

In a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency, the corps says that although three toxic chemicals were used at Nike Missile Battery 87, which was in operation in the late 1950s and early 1960s, “the occurrence of these three substances cannot be attributed to former Army activities.”

An EPA Region 10 spokesman said Monday the agency is withholding comment on the report pending review. The agency has said the chemicals appear together only at former military installations where rocket engines have been manufactured or stored.

The Corps of Engineers, which is responsible for environmental cleanup at former Defense Department sites, has maintained that a connection between the contamination and the Nike site has not been established.

The report issued this month confirms that position, said Matthew Allen, project manager for the corps, on Monday. By law, Defense Department funds can only be used for environmental cleanup when contamination has been linked to military sites.

Since trichloroethylene, or TCE, a solvent once commonly used by the military as a degreaser, was discovered in late 2004 in a well on Euclid Road west of Fairchild Air Force Base and north of U.S. Highway 2, the chemical known to cause cancer has been found in four other private wells, some of which were at levels above federal drinking water standards. It also has been found in four EPA test wells.

The TCE plume extends about 2,000 feet from east to west and about 3,500 feet from north to south, according to the report.

After confirming the presence of TCE, the EPA tested for two chemicals associated with solid rocket fuel. Perchlorate, known to disrupt thyroid function, has been found at very low levels in 114 wells in the area. Low levels of N-nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA, a probable carcinogen, have been found in 43 wells, according to the report.

The corps maintains that TCE was commercially available and used by civilians as well as the military. It also cites the possibility of naturally occurring perchlorate, and says NDMA can result from the treatment of wastewater with chlorine.

The report sent to the EPA also makes these points:

•Contamination from military sites typically results in a plume from a single source while the NDMA and perchlorate contamination at Deep Creek appears spread over a broad area.

•There is no evidence of NDMA or perchlorate contamination at the Battery 87 launch site or the battery’s control site about four miles to the northwest.

•Although Nike Hercules rockets did use perchlorate fuel, the engines were not maintained at the battery site.

•Because there was no TCE detected “upgradient” from the plume, the Battery 87 control site could not be its source. There is no hydrological connection between the launch site and the TCE-contaminated wells.

While the report, prepared for the corps by private contractor Shannon & Wilson Inc., agrees with an earlier EPA study that TCE contamination may be the result of dumping along North Wood Road, there is no historical evidence that the military engaged in such practices in the Deep Creek area, Allen said.

The presence of TCE has been discovered at numerous current and former military installations. Congress recently has conducted hearings, for example, on TCE contamination on a massive scale at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

The corps report, released this month, was expected last March. It relies on historical records, site practices and interviews with former Department of Defense personnel and area residents. Although the corps continues to work with the EPA on what has become known as the Euclid Road site, Allen said, no further corps action is expected.

“It’s taken us two years to get them to admit they used TCE,” said Sally Williams, whose drinking water was found to be contaminated with the solvent. “Now, they are saying they are not going to be responsible until further evidence comes forward.”