Boston, MA - Removal of toxic wastes from the Massachusetts Military Reservation (the MMR) could be halted under a proposed bill being circulated by the Pentagon, according to the New England chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The bill is designed to lift environmental restrictions at the MMR imposed by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect Cape Cod's drinking water from the risk of further contamination from military munitions and other hazardous wastes.
Slated for inclusion in the 2003 Defense Authorization Act expected this spring, the draft bill is part of an announced effort by the Pentagon to eliminate what are termed as "environmental encroachments" on "military readiness activities." To date, the MMR is the only base in the nation where EPA has intervened to stop live fire training. The draft bill would exempt all military munitions from hazardous waste and Clean Water Act requirements, putting a legal cloud over prior clean-up orders.
"This is an utterly irresponsible approach to a serious but preventable public health problem," commented New England PEER Director Kyla Bennett, an attorney and former EPA employee. "Reclassifying munitions as non-toxic under the law does not remove the very real threat of contamination, but rather than address the pollution problem the Pentagon seeks to change the law."
The MMR covers approximately 21,000 acres on Cape Cod, including the 14,000-acre Camp Edwards training grounds. Since 1911, military personnel at the MMR have engaged in the firing of small arms and artillery. In subsequent years, the military used the MMR for incineration of propellant bags, detonation practice for explosives, and disposal of unexploded ordnance.
In 1995, EPA identified ten plumes of contaminated groundwater emanating from the MMR. The groundwater underlying the MMR is the sole source of drinking water for the approximately 200,000 Upper Cape's year-round and 520,000 seasonal residents. The largest part of the aquifer lies directly under the Camp Edwards training range, and is particularly susceptible to contamination given the shallow depth to groundwater and the sandy, porous soils.
"While the draft bill's most immediate effect may be felt on the Cape, the scope of the change will affect scores of other communities neighboring military training bases throughout the nation," Bennett concluded.
A copy of the bill draft is posted on the PEER web site at: Draft