Army depot investigates release of explosive compounds into water

gkocher1@herald-leader.comMarch 12, 2012 

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Palettes containing more than 2,000 M55 rockets with a payload of VX nerve agent fill one of 49 igloos in the chemical storage area of Blue Grass Army Depot. While waiting for disposal of the weapons, the depot is marketing itself as an industrial site with a ready work force.

DAVID STEPHENSON — LEXINGTON HERALD-LEADER

Officials at Blue Grass Army Depot said Monday that they are investigating what appears to be an unauthorized release of explosive compounds into the depot's wastewater stream.

Officials said in a news release that there is no indication that any of the contaminants in the unfiltered water, including trinitrotoluene or TNT and royal demolition explosive, or RDX, made it through the depot's treatment plant into the environment.

On Feb. 27, operators at the depot's wastewater treatment plant noticed an unusual color in the influent stream. In tracing the source back through the lines and lift stations, officials initially thought it was coming from construction activities north of the depot. All operations in that area, including construction activities, were reviewed and a sample was taken for analysis.

While officials awaited the results of the Feb. 27 sample, a second similar occurrence was observed on March 5.

On March 7, the depot received the preliminary lab results for the first occurrence, and those results indicated that the water was from the depot's washout plant. The depot immediately notified the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection's Division of Water and reported the incident. Depot leaders immediately shut down the washout plant and initiated an investigation.

The washout plant is used to remove explosive material from projectiles and land mines. The process forces hot water at high velocity into the round to recover the explosive material. The explosives are separated, dried, packaged and then recycled. The plant is used solely to "demilitarize" conventional munitions.

After the temporary spike, contaminant levels at the entrance of the wastewater treatment plant quickly returned to normal.

The Army is investigating the release to determine the cause and prevent a recurrence. The washout plant will remain closed until the investigation is completed.

The washout plant's 64 employees have been reassigned to other jobs within their department during the ongoing investigation.

The contaminated water did not affect any areas where livestock graze on the depot. The depot's chemical weapons stockpile was not involved or affected by this incident.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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