FORT DETRICK AREA B GROUND WATER
FORT DETRICK, MD
On this page:
- What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
- What Is the Current Site Status?
- Emergency Response and Removal
On related pages:
Fort Detrick is an active U.S. Army Installation operated under the Army Medical Command (MEDCOM), in Frederick, Maryland. Fort Detrick is located within the city limits of Frederick and is surrounded by residential areas and county-owned land. Fort Detrick consists of three non-contiguous tracts of land designated as Areas A, B, and C. Area B is the only area of Fort Detrick that is currently on the National Priorities List (NPL).
Area B occupies approximately 399 acres and was initially established as a proving ground in the Army's Biological Warfare program. Later, Area B was used as a disposal area for chemical, biological, and radiological (CBR) material and until 1970 for biological experimentation.
Area B has been the primary location of waste management activities for Fort Detrick and is the location of an active municipal landfill, animal farm, former skeet range, former explosives storage area, and former waste disposal/test areas associated with former research activities. In the late 1940s, the Special Operations Group of Fort Detrick installed a test grid in Area B to test both live and simulant biological warfare (BW) materials. A list of the live agent materials used in Area B is not available, but it is known that simulant materials used included Bacillus globigii, Serratia marcescens, and Escherichia coli. Test animals were buried in trenches or pits located in Area B after autoclave sterilization. Many types of munitions were tested on the grid in Area B and anthrax was buried in Area B. In addition, radiological tracer materials were reportedly buried at three locations in Area B, including radioactive carbon, sulfur, and phosphorous. Two cylinders marked "Phosgene" were also reportedly buried in Area B. Phosgene is considered a lethal chemical agent.
In 1970 and 1971, after the United States outlawed biological research for offensive operations, a decontamination program was initiated for Fort Detrick. Decontamination procedures for residual biological/chemical research materials included autoclave steam sterilization and incineration. Incineration ash was tilled into soil in the northwestern corner of Area B (Pit 13). Research buildings and equipment were also decontaminated, and an extensive wipe sampling program was completed after decontamination. In addition, sewage drainage lines were cut and capped, and drainage systems were filled with hypochlorite solution where possible.
In 1977, severe soil erosion exposed buried scrap materials and created several deep cavities in Area B. The areas were subsequently covered with soil.
In June 2004, the Army performed a removal action at Area B-11, an Area B chemical disposal area. Removal activities included the removal of contaminated soil, chemical containers, compressed gas cylinders, and laboratory waste. The discovery of live pathogens in medical wastes at Area B-11 caused suspension of all intrusive work at the disposal area, and waste remains buried at Area B-11.
Since 1999, quarterly groundwater sampling has been conducted in and south of Area B-11. Groundwater sampling activities include monitoring wells and drinking water wells along the southern facility boundary of Area B. The volatile organic compounds (VOC) trichloroethene (TCE) and tetrachloroethene (PCE) are the major chemical constituents detected in groundwater. Additionally, TCE also was detected in a residential well located on the southern portion of Shookstown Road. Therefore, groundwater contamination may extend off site to residential wells.
Most of the drinking water wells in close proximity to Fort Detrick have been closed, and residents are provided with public water or bottled water. Fort Detrick provides residents not connected to the public water supply with bottled water. In 1992, groundwater samples collected from six drinking water wells contained concentrations of TCE above the cancer risk screening concentration or at concentrations meeting the criteria for documenting Level I actual contamination. One of these wells contained TCE and PCE concentrations above their respective drinking water maximum contaminant levels (MCLs); and another contained TCE concentrations above the MCL. In September 2005, two groundwater samples collected from residential wells contained TCE or PCE at concentrations meeting the criteria for documenting Level I actual contamination.
The southwestern portion of Area B contains three known chemical waste disposal pits (Pits 1, 3, and 4), one suspected chemical waste disposal pit (Pit 2), and one ash disposal pit. Area B-11, also known as Pit 11, is reported to have received various types of waste chemicals from Fort Detrick, the National Bureau of Standards, and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center from 1955 to 1970. Reportedly, eight 55-gallon drums of TCE were disposed of in Pit 1. Wastes disposed of in the pits included metals, wood, general waste from laboratory modifications and building demolition, refuse from housing and animal farm operations, acids and chemicals, incinerated medical waste, waste herbicides and insecticides, phosgene, and animals potentially contaminated by anthrax.
Area B-11 is underlain by solution-weathered limestone of the Frederick Formation, a karst formation aquifer. Solution features such as voids were identified in Area B-11 during the installation of monitoring wells. The voids are 10 to 87 feet long and were encountered with the greatest concentration in the first 100 feet of drilling. Drilling in Area B-11 revealed that bedrock is located at 32 to 33 feet below ground surface (bgs). The nature of karst conditions in Area B-11 increases the probability of releases to groundwater from wastes disposed of in Area B-11. Wastes may have been disposed of directly into karst solution cavities (voids) resulting in possible groundwater contamination.
What Has Been Done to Clean Up the Site?
The site is being addressed through federal actions.
Currently, the U.S. Army, the State of Maryland, and EPA are developing a Conceptual Site Model to adequately capture the complex nature of the karst formations underlying Area B. An investigation is underway to help in the understanding of these karst formations which will aid in predicting where groundwater is flowing. A Remedial Investigation is also underway at Area B which includes multiple groundwater, surface water, and sediment sampling events. Additionally, a vapor intrusion study is underway to evaluate the potential for vapor intrusion associated with the groundwater contaminant plume migration both on and off Area B.
Furthermore, because of public concern over the possible testing of Agent Orange at Area B of Fort Detrick, the Army conducted sampling for herbicides and dioxins in soils. The sampling results did not find evidence of a testing area or contamination associated with Agent Orange.
What Is the Current Site Status?
Fort Detrick Area B Groundwater (Fort Detrick) was proposed to the National Priorities List (NPL) on September 3, 2008 as part of the NPL Proposed Rule #49. Four Source Areas were identified at Fort Detrick in the NPL proposal including: (1) Chemical Waste Disposal Pits - Area B-11; (2) Area B-2 Landfill; (3) Area B-Grid; and (4) Area B-20 South Burn Area. Other possible source areas identified in the NPL proposal narrative include 30 additional areas that require investigation. Fort Detrick Area B Groundwater was finalized on the NPL on April 9, 2009 as part of the NPL Final Rule #46. A Federal Facilities Agreement (FFA) between the U.S. Army (Army) and EPA-Region III was signed on December 17, 2010. The FFA describes the procedures under which the Army, MDE, and the EPA will investigate and, if necessary, remediate sites at Fort Detrick in accordance with the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA). Pending review of public comments, the FFA was made effective in the fall of 2011. No Records of Decision (RODs) have been jointly signed by the EPA and the Army to date at Fort Detrick. A ROD is the official document that establishes how each site will be remediated. As of January 2018, the Army has completed the Five-Year Review (FYR) process required under CERCLA for the following environmental restoration sites at Fort Detrick: Area A Building 568 TCE Spill Site; Area B Landfills; Area C Waste Water Treatment Plant; and the Former Ash Disposal Area. The remedial investigations, studies and fieldwork continue, and six of the 16 scheduled new monitoring wells to expand the existing monitoring network surrounding the capped landfills have been installed. The next Five-Year Review will be conducted January 2023.
Emergency Response and Removal
Cleanup actions to date have included decontamination procedures for residual biological/chemical research materials, research buildings and equipment; tilling incineration ash into the soil; cutting and capping of sewage drain lines; covering areas with soil; and providing residents not connected to the public water supply with bottled water.