Environmental Remediation: DEQ “Bomb Squad” Uncovers Old Munitions

By Katie Crane

I am pretty sure I have one of the coolest jobs at DEQ: I provide regulatory oversight for the Military Munitions Response Program (MMRP), regulating the remedial response process for unexploded ordnance (UXO) sites. It involves a good dose of history, risk management, environmental cleanup, and of course – bombs. What’s not to like?!

The MMRP was developed in 2001 by the Department of Defense to address munitions-related concerns, including explosive safety, environmental, and health hazards from releases of UXO and munitions constituents found in locations that were used as targets, demolition sites, and past operational ranges. Sites under the MMRP are located on non-operational range land with suspected or known hazards from munitions and explosives of concern (MEC) with releases that occurred prior to September 2002.

In Utah, there are approximately 25 active MMRP sites in various stages of the remediation process. The Munition Response Sites (MRSs) are located on a combination of Bureau of Land Management land, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration land, and commercial and private land.

One of the largest projects we have been working on is the Wood Hollow Training Area MRS located along the boundary of the Utah National Guard’s (UTNG) Camp Williams. Historic reviews and the discovery of expended 75 millimeter (mm) projectiles indicated the area was used as a target area for 75mm field guns.

A bit of history: the 145th Field Artillery unit of the UTNG obtained the 75mm field gun from French allies in 1918 while in France during World War I. In 1919, the 145th was formally designated as the 75mm field-gun unit. Artillery units also fired 37mm sub-caliber ammunitions as a training component for the 75mm gun. Field guns were used by the 145th Unit at Camp Williams from approximately 1919 to 1941.

The dud rate — when projectiles fail to detonate as designed — was about 8-10 percent for the munitions that were used in the Wood Hollow MRS, meaning there’s a potential for live, unexploded ordnances in land that is now used for farming, ranching, recreation, mining, and more recently, urban development. This past summer, the remedial action (RA) commenced at the Wood Hollow MRS, performed by Parsons, one of the Utah National Guard’s contactors.

The first phase of the RA consisted of a surface sweep to locate surface MEC and to pick up any munitions debris (MD) — munitions-related items like frag that are non-explosive — and other metal objects (surface clutter) to prepare the site for subsurface removal. This also helps ensure all material that might be hazardous to the field crews is removed. All ordnance work is performed by specially trained UXO Technicians.

During the second phase, digital-geophysical mapping (DGM) was utilized to “see” metallic anomalies in the subsurface. This was performed over 100 percent of the surface – no gaps! The UXO Techs carefully hand-dug each anomaly, which sometimes turned out to be MEC items that were then detonated on site.

During the RA, the Parsons team located 65 MEC items, removed 15,418 pounds of MD, walked 384 miles, and cleared 241 acres of MEC to a depth of 18 inches. The team also investigated transects in step-out areas adjacent to the original MRS boundary. These areas were investigated because of the high density of MD and MEC items found along the MRS boundary, indicating there might be more MEC items out there.

It looks like there is going to be another field season of locating MEC next year!

While these projects do a good job removing explosive items, they take time and like all remedial actions, there is always a chance something gets left behind. If you come across an item that you think might be munitions-related, follow the three R’s: recognize, retreat, and report: call 911. Trust me, the authorities would much rather come determine an item is really a rusty old muffler than have someone get seriously hurt or killed by a munition.

Katie CraneI have been an environmental scientist in DERR for almost a year now. Prior to working at DEQ, I worked as an environmental consultant for seven years. I received a degree in geology from Smith College and a Master of Public Health from the University of Utah. I’m also the mom of a crazy, little one-and-a-half year-old, Kylie, whom I love chasing around and teaching about the world.