Unpermitted activity threatens Potomac River and Southern Maryland
Severe contamination from military weapons testing and disposal dating to 1898 contaminate the region
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head Division (Indian Head) has conducted open burning/open detonation (OB/OD) of military flares that contain up to 45% of Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), according to a report by Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger, (CSWAB).
Indian Head has conducted OB/OD for decades without a hazardous waste (Resource Conservation and Recovery Act) permit. EPA officials confirm there are no enforceable permit conditions restricting the amount or type of munitions treated by OB/OD, including flares.
“Pyrotechnic compositions of magnesium/Teflon/Viton (MTV) are widely used in military flares and for igniting the solid propellant of a rocket motor and are comprised of as much as 45% PFAS. The demilitarization of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable flares and other energetic waste currently relies on open burning and open detonation (OB/OD) – a practice that produces an ongoing uncontrolled release of PFAS and other toxic chemicals to the environment. Across the U.S., hundreds of communities and thousands of on-base personnel and service members have felt the adverse effects of these toxic pollutants, including PFAS.
PFAS are added to improve the performance and stability of certain military explosives and munitions. Infrared countermeasure flares are designed to protect rotary- and fixed-wing aircraft from infrared guided (heat seeking) missiles. Pyrotechnic compositions of magnesium/Teflon/Viton (MTV) are widely used in military flares and for igniting the solid propellant of a rocket motor. Often referred to as “decoy” flares, countermeasure flares are comprised of as much as 45% PFAS.”
We saw the videos of planes used to evacuate people from Kabul and the flares they launched to confuse the land-based portable infrared guided missiles called Stingers that are capable of shooting down aircraft. The Magnesium/Teflon/Viton (MTV) decoy flares are capable of interfering with infrared-guided missiles.
It’s a deep historic irony for U.S. forces. The CIA armed the Mujahadeen with thousands of FIM-92 Stingers manufactured by the monster munitions manufacturer Raytheon.
In 1986 President Ronald Reagan authorized the CIA to provide thousands of the sophisticated Stinger missiles to the mujaheddin. “We were handing them out like lollipops,” a U.S. intelligence official in Washington told the Washington Post, a newspaper we once trusted.
At one point, the CIA was providing Stingers to seven different mujaheddin groups, which then distributed them among their own subcommanders. The Pentagon eventually lost track of the money and weapons.
The point here is that U.S. warplanes are increasingly flying in and out of huge swaths of the earth where their presence is not appreciated, for good reason.
These Stingers present a threat to the U.S. imperial presence. The flares of magnesium/Teflon/Viton (MTV) are deemed by Pentagon war planners to be indispensable.
They’re pure poison. Actually, they’re 45% poison. PFAS doesn’t break down. The heat generated by the flares, most incinerators, and open burn methods can’t destroy PFAS.
A silent death from routine flare use sprinkles down, contaminating rivers and fields—forever.
The clouds of poison gas emitted from bases like Indian Head that conduct open burning/open detonation are a danger to human health. We live under the thump of the most powerful empire in human history and it doesn’t matter if you live in Ginowan City, Okinawa, Kaiserslautern, Germany, or Washington, DC. We’re all subjects.
PFAS is a killer. It doesn’t break down. It accumulates in us. It causes cancer and it seriously affects the unborn fetus. We need to stop manufacturing it and we must clean up contaminated areas.
CSWAB reports that the “demilitarization of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable flares and other energetic hazardous waste currently relies on open burning and open detonation (OB/OD). Nationwide, there are approximately 60 active private and public sector facilities that routinely conduct OB/OD of solid and hazardous waste, including flares.”
OB/OD in the DC Area
The U.S. Navy’s Allegany Ballistics Laboratory in Rocket Center, West Virginia, 130 miles west of Washington, is a critical source of contamination in the Potomac River. The on-site disposal of explosive metals and solvent wastes contaminates soil and groundwater with hazardous chemicals.
The groundwater and soil along the river are laced with explosives, dioxins, volatile organic compounds, acids, laboratory and industrial wastes, bottom sludge from solvent recovery, metal plating pretreatment sludge, paints, and thinners. The site also has a beryllium landfill. An active burning area is still used for waste disposal, sprinkling chemical dust over the river.
The Naval Surface Warfare Center – Dahlgren is located 20 miles south of Indian Head, on the other side of the Potomac, in King George County, Virginia. Reckless disposal of chemical agents contaminates the soil, groundwater, and sediment. Dahlgren open burns hazardous waste, sprinkling a powder of poison over the Potomac, the Northern Neck of Virginia, and Southern Maryland. The base routinely fires missiles into the Potomac. I hear them regularly.
CSWAB reported, “Today, at least nine major sites are operating without an enforceable hazardous waste permit. These “interim status” sites have no limits on the types or quantities of wastes that may be treated by OB/OD, including PFAS.”
CSWAB continued, “According to the Navy’s 1996 permit application, Indian Head has the capacity to open burn 9,000 pounds per 8-hour period or as much as 9,450,000 pounds of hazardous waste per year. Congress made open air burning of hazardous waste illegal in the 1980s and since that time, the U.S. EPA has not enforced that law.”
PFAS at Indian Head
Last year, the Navy announced the completion date for the Preliminary Assessment for PFAS at Indian Head would be January 2021. They also promised that the fieldwork for the Site Inspection would conclude in August 2021. We haven’t seen either report.
Aside from the flares, everything we know about PFAS at Indian Head is from the Site Management Plan in 2018. They announced the existence of Site 71, a new Area of Concern. (AOC). Gotta love the acronyms.
The Navy reported 5 PFAS AOCs on base. They tell us the areas are thought to involve “the potential use of foam containing PFAS in fire training exercises.” Sometimes, when officers and contractors retire, they admit the Navy is playing dumb.
There is one other hint of PFAS usage at Indian Head. The Warfare Center sent
853 drum loads of materials containing PFAS/AFFF solutions to the Norlite incineration plant in Cohoes, New York during the time period from 01/01/2018 to 12/30/2019.
Open burning locations – past and present
Site 28 – Unexploded Ordnance (UXO 8) – ORIGINAL BURNING GROUND
Site 21 – Solid Waste Management Unit (SWMU)
UXO 30 – GATE 3 BURNING GROUND
Site 22 – Nitroglycerin Burning Site
Site 58 – Range 3 Burn Point
Site 30 – Gate 3 Burning Ground
Site 11 – Caffee Road Landfill
SWMU 38 – Caffee Road Waster oil storage area
SWMU 19 – Cast Plant Burn Point
SWMU 20 / UXO 20 – Safety Thermal Treatment Point
SWMU 16 – Thermal Treatment Tank
Indian Head is one of the most severely contaminated patches of ground anywhere on the planet. It has been used as a training and dumping ground for the Navy since the Spanish American War.
I ran for Congress against Rep. Steny Hoyer, (D-MD-5) in 2018. I received 1.3% as a Green in the general election. I attended four town halls held for those running for Congress in Maryland’s 5th district. Each time I mentioned the contamination at Indian Head because Rep. Hoyer is a big supporter of the place.
Hoyer “celebrates” the environmental catastrophe. In 2017 he attended a ceremony at Indian Head that welcomed the Norwegian arms maker, NAMMO, to Indian Head, Maryland.
The House Majority leader said, “This new partnership comes amid celebrations of the seventy-fifth anniversary of explosive ordnance disposal in the Navy, which we’ve been celebrating since August.”
Norwegians are particularly sensitive about their environment and are hesitant to test rocket systems in their pristine fjords, while the Potomac is already heavily contaminated and almost no one gives a damn.
A War Zone at Indian Head, Maryland
The Naval Surface Warfare Center Indian Head tests munitions at the Strauss Avenue Thermal Treatment Point (SATTP) and Range 3 at Stump Neck. Federal regulation, 33 CFR § 334.240 has established a weapon’s testing danger zone and restricted area in the Potomac River, Mattawoman Creek and Chicamuxen Creek.
Nearly every week the Navy publishes a schedule of restrictions and expected conditions in the water surrounding the installation. This is the current warning:
“Operations are scheduled for Monday, Sept. 13, through Thursday, Sept. 16, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Noticeable impacts such as noise and smoke are expected to last for approximately 30 minutes to one hour. Operations are expected to create INTENSE noise, POPPING or BANGING sounds and INTENSE FLAMES with HEAVY ABUNDANT smoke.” (Emphasis added by NAVSEA)
The danger zone statute says that no vessels except vessels of the United States or vessels authorized by the enforcing agency shall enter or remain in the danger zone while lights are flashing, when warning horns are in operation, or when warned or directed by a patrol vessel. Otherwise, vessels may enter and proceed through the danger zone without restriction. However, accidental explosions may occur at any time. Persons and vessels entering the area do so at their own risk. Fishermen operating in the danger zone when warning signals are sounded shall evacuate the area immediately.
Fishermen? Since the area has been used for weapon’s testing, incineration, and landfilling of munitions since 1898, the waters and the fish ought to be tested for a host of lethal contaminants, including PFAS.
For a national list of bombing areas we must shut down see Title 33 – Navigation and Navigable Waters – Danger Zone and Restricted Area Regulations
How bad is the contamination at Indian Head?
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and caldron bubble.
Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.
– Shakespeare Song of the Witches from Macbeth
Source: Propublica – Bombs in your backyard – from data provided by the Department of Defense. Some areas on base are in various stages of cleanup while new messes are created.
Indian Head Contaminants and concentrations in Groundwater, Surface Water, Sediment, and Soil. (ppb = parts per billion)
Aluminum 240000.0 ppb
Arsenic 100000.0 ppb
Barium 1910000.0 ppb
Benzo(a)Pyrene 1510.0 ppb
Benzo(b)Fluoranthene 2000.0 ppb
Chromium 67700.0 ppb
Cobalt 16000.0 ppb
DDD 9500.0 ppb
Heptachlor Epoxide 36.0 ppb
Iron 242000000.0 ppb
Lead 106000.0 ppb
Naphthalene 3070.0 ppb
Nickel (Soluble Salts) 83100.0 ppb
RDX 2300.0 ppb
Trichloroethylene (TCE) 55,000,000.0 ppb
Vanadium 199000.0 ppb
Surface Water (Fresh):
Arsenic 3900.0 ppb
Bromodichloromethane 2000.0 ppb
Iron 7960000.0 ppb
Lead 2600.0 ppb
Manganese and compounds 7250000.0 ppb
Perchlorate 620000.0 ppb
Acenaphthene 0.1 ppb
Anthracene 0.26 ppb
Arochlor 1260 0.16 ppb
Arsenic 19.2 ppb
Arsenic 5.8 ppb
Benz(a)Anthracene 0.71 ppb
Benzo(a)Pyrene 0.49 ppb
Benzo(a)Pyrene 490.0 ppb
Chromium 21.9 ppb
Chrysene 0.73 ppb
Copper and compounds 36.1 ppb
Endrin 0.0021 ppb
Fluorene 0.11 ppb
Lead 37.0 ppb
Mercury (Inorganic) 1.3 ppb
Phenanthrene 0.94 ppb
Zinc 164.0 ppb
1,3,5-Trinitrobenzene 0.2 ppb
1,3-Dinitrobenzene 0.851 ppb
2,4,6-Trinitrotoluene 0.25 ppb
2,4-Dinitrotoluene 0.2 ppb
2,6-Dinitrotoluene 0.2 ppb
Acenaphthene 26.0 ppb
Acenaphthylene 0.6 ppb
Acetone 0.48 ppb
Aluminum 32400.0 ppb
Anthracene 56.0 ppb
Antimony and compounds 12.2 ppb
Arsenic 108.0 ppb
Benz(a)Anthracene 33000.0 ppb
Benzene 13.5 ppb
Benzo(a)Pyrene 42000.0 ppb
Benzo(b)Fluoranthene 41000.0 ppb
Cadmium and compounds 14.8 ppb
Carbazole 45.0 ppb
Chromium 1570.0 ppb
Chrysene 43000.0 ppb
Copper and compounds 370.0 ppb
Dibenz[ah]anthracene 7600.0 ppb
Dibenzofuran 9.2 ppb
Dieldrin 0.04 ppb
Dinitotoluene 6.0 ppb
HMX 4.3 ppb
Indeno(1,2,3-cd)Pyrene 27000.0 ppb
Iron 41700.0 ppb
Lead 3877.0 ppb
Lithium 28.3 ppb
Manganese and compounds 1700.0 ppb
Mercury (Inorganic) 22.1 ppb
Mercury (Methyl) 174.0 ppb
Naphthalene 330.0 ppb
Nickel (Soluble Salts) 230.0 ppb
Nitrobenzene 0.2 ppb
Pyrene 22.4 ppb
RDX 0.2 ppb
Silver and compounds 19.5 ppb
Tetryl 0.2 ppb
Thorium 229 (radionuclide) 4000000.0 ppb
Tin 1.7 ppb
Toluene-2,6-Diamine 130.0 ppb
Vanadium 115.0 ppb
Zinc 483.0 ppb