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Groundwater Contamination at Ft. Gillem

November 13, 2014

In the early 1990s, the U.S. Army discovered that hazardous chemicals dumped at Fort Gillem were seeping into residential drinking water wells in the neighboring city of Forest Park, Georgia. Fort Gillem was established in 1941 as a Quartmaster Depot during World War II responsible for shipping supplies to army personnel around the world. The military base became a dumping ground for a variety of substances, including engine oil, solvents, rubber, and a German mustard gas bomb.

Over time, volatile organic compounds from these substances migrated from the military base to nearby neighborhoods. The Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) responded to the discovery of these compounds in nearby neighborhoods by issuing an order calling for the Army to resolve water contamination issues at Fort Gillem. The Army responded to Georgia EPD’s concerns in 1994 by passing out bottled water to residents and shifting many Forest Park residents from private wells to Clayton County’s municipal water system.

Twenty years have passed and the base has been closed, yet known and suspected carcinogens continue to migrate from groundwater into surface water. The Army has taken some steps to remove pollutants from the base.

For example, in 2009, the Army installed two pump-and-treat systems to extract toxins from the groundwater before they migrated off the base. However, Georgia EPD was concerned that the Army was not acting efficiently enough to contain the contamination and prevent it from reaching residents’ homes. Furthermore, Georgia EPD was not convinced that the Army had sufficiently warned residents of the dangers posed by the contamination.

In June 2013, Georgia EPD’s frustration with the Army’s failure to clean up Fort Gillem resulted in a letter to Region IV of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In its letter, Georgia EPD recommended that Fort Gillem be placed on the federal list of Superfund sites unless a legally binding cleanup plan was in place by the end of that year. To date, Fort Gillem has not been listed as a Superfund site.

In 2014, the Army began conducting a vapor intrusion study approved by the Georgia EPD to evaluate whether the air in residential properties contains hazardous contaminants. However, Georgia EPD and EPA were unhappy with the Army’s failure to implement efficient mitigation measures that are set forth in the approved study. In response to the Army’s significant deviation from its approved study work plan to clean up contaminants at Fort Gillem, EPA issued an Order on September 24, 2014 under Section 7003 of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), ordering the Army to take corrective measures at Fort Gillem. EPA issued the Order under RCRA because it believed that an Order was necessary to protect the health of the community and the environment surrounding Fort Gillem.

According to the Order, the Army must conduct a survey of all water wells and springs within the area designated in the Order within 21 days. Within fifteen days of submitting the survey, the Order mandates the Army to sample and analyze the water from the wells for volatile organic compounds. Results of the sampling and analysis must be submitted to EPA within 45 days of submitting the well survey. In addition to surveying and sampling wells at Fort Gillem, EPA’s order requires the Army to connect any resident to the city’s water supply who is not already connected to the city’s water supply if the Army finds contaminants in the resident’s well that exceed the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) of the Safe Drinking Water Act. For more information on EPA’s Order, read EPA’s press release regarding the Order.

Since the EPA’s Order was issued, the Army has hosted an information forum to get information out to residents of Forest Park regarding contamination from activities at Fort Gillem.  Furthermore, and only with prodding from state and federal regulators, the Army has conducted vapor intrusion tests on roughly 68 homes and 1 daycare center.  More testing will follow.

Georgia EPD and the EPA must hold the Army fully accountable for contamination at Fort Gillem and the surrounding community. Georgia EPD and the EPA must protect individuals’ health and private property values from the Army’s irresponsible behavior. Hopefully, Georgia EPD will continue this enforcement approach to groundwater contamination in Waycross and Brunswick as detailed in the Georgia Water Coalition’s 2014 Dirty Dozen report.

-Hunter Jones

2 Comments leave one →
  1. May 12, 2015 6:39 pm

    I grew up on post.Should I be concerned ? I was 7 moved after 21 and worked there to

  2. Joel Edison permalink
    April 26, 2017 10:35 am

    I remember seeing fish in the lakes with sores.

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