Fort Jackson officials say groundwater contamination not a health risk

FORT JACKSON, SC (WIS) - COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Officials at Fort Jackson knew about groundwater contamination for more than a year before reporting the irregularity to the state, according to Department of Health and Environmental Control director Catherine Templeton.

In an October 25 letter to Fort Jackson's public works director, Templeton says it is DHEC's belief that the fort has been aware of the presence of Royal Demolition Explosive (RDX) in certain monitoring wells since July, 2012.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the chemical compound used in ammunition can cause seizures in people who swallow a lot of it.

About 47,000 soldiers train annually at Fort Jackson and some will toss at least a couple of live hand grenades. But then those grenades blow up and leave something behind.

"We've got the old adage 'we need to train as you are going to fight' and we want to make sure these soldiers, especially these soldiers, many of whom will be going to combat sometime very soon have the most realistic training they can have before they go to combat," said Fort Jackson Commanding General Bradley Becker.

The fort's permit states any potential area of concern must be reported within fifteen days of discovery.

"We request that you immediately test any potentially impacted drinking water wells down gradient," wrote Templeton.

Fort Jackson's public affairs office sent out news release Thursday to alert the media and public about the discovery in the groundwater at the southern edge of the Army training base. The release did not mention when the irregularity was first reported.

Base officials said they plan to test private wells near the fort to see if there is any contamination. A collection of samples will take place the first two weeks of December. Officials will notify property owners of the results approximately four weeks later.

In the event RDX is detected above risk-based levels, appropriate action will be taken, base officials said.

"The results of our assessment are encouraging," said Brig. Gen. Bradley Becker. "Although there are detectable levels of munitions components from operational ranges near the installation boundary, they are below the EPA health advisory levels."

Becker said Army and Fort Jackson officials take the safety of community partners and the health of the environment seriously and as stewards simply want to be certain.

"We are first and foremost committed to transparency in everything we do," said Becker. "We want to make sure that RDX is not migrating off the installation."

Barbara Williams with environmental management said their is no health risk as this time.

"2.0, that's the level at which if you were to drink water at 2.0 parts per billion of RDX for your entire life it's still not considered a health risk and so ours on the range is 0.78 so, it's one third of that," Williams said. "So we could drink the water on our range for the rest of our life and it would not be considered a health risk according to the EPA."

Post officials are planning town hall meetings for property owners within a 2-mile radius of the southern boundary, just east of Weston Lake. Citizens will be able to speak with post and USAEC experts, as well as members of the firm conducting the study.

"We've already sent out the information, we sent out the requests for entry, we sent out a RDX fact sheet and also a letter from myself that explains the situation," said Col. Michael Graese.

Copyright 2013 WIS. All rights reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.