No chemical warfare training material found on ex-base

RANTOUL — No evidence of formal chemical warfare training was found during an extensive investigation of a site on the former Chanute Air Force Base.

Paul Carroll, base alignment and closure coordinator for the former base, told members of the Chanute Restoration Advisory Board at its semi-annual meeting last week that during a recent search period, 100 metallic items — or “anomalies” —  were found, but all but one were “likely related to construction debris.”

“Most everything was pipe, rebar, etc.,” Carroll said.

The only other item was an empty .50-caliber shell casing that posed no hazard.

From 1943-1951, the 3-acre area was used to train personnel in chemical warfare use, but you couldn’t tell that by what the inspection team found.

The team also conducted 35 soil samples. A grid sampling was conducted on the suspect area located northeast of the intersection of Century Boulevard and Chandler Road. The sampling was searching for possible chemical agents, chemical agent breakdown products, volatile organic compounds, metals and explosives.

“There were no chemical agents found,” Carroll said.

The team also collected samples for volatile organic compounds, metals and explosives, which were sent to a lab. Test results are being awaited for those.

If soil samples are found to be above the screening and background levels, then an evaluation will be made for the potential impact to groundwater, and the site will be further evaluated for possible additional investigation.

Doug Rokke of rural Paxton, a member of the RAB board, said a photo of personnel at the site frightened him. He said the equipment was inappropriate for testing for chemical and biological warfare materials.

But Carroll said the team was not searching for warfare equipment but for training materials. He said the equipment and monitoring were completely appropriate.

Then Rokke charged that the Air Force allowed high school students to plant crops in the suspect area after it was determined it had been used for chemical warfare training.

Responded Carroll, “There were plants being planted in that area, but the day we found there was potential for this type of training, we notified the village of Rantoul to cease and desist that activity, and they did.”

“That did not happen,” Rokke said.

“It did,” Carroll countered.

PFC report
In inspections on other areas of the former base, Carroll reported that groundwater in five areas was found to contain perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoc acid (PFOA) above the EPA lifetime health advisory level for drinking water of 0.07 ug/L.

The areas were Building 32, the former crash station; Building 43, the former fire station; the former south wastewater treatment plant in the 500s area; Hangar P-1/ramp; and the hose pad area.

Trap range sites tested
In his report, Amar Bumb, technical lead for CB&I Federal Services, reported on lead testing and cleanup of two former trap ranges in the north area of the former base.

The former Building 107 trap range was located behind the current Multicultural Community Center, located near the intersection of Veterans Parkway and Maplewood Drive.

Small areas with levels of lead and/or polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) were found above acceptable levels.  

PAHs were found at greater than 2 feet in the playground area of the center. However, children were not exposed because the PAHs are buried, Bumb said, adding that the Air Force will have to excavate that area.

The Chanute Field trap range 1 initial sampling began this month, with the same approach to be handled as the 107 trap range.

A 1920s-era photo of the former range was shown. The range was located in an area that spans just north and south across what is now Veterans Parkway and just west of what is now the Maplewood Drive intersection.

During the public comment section, David Noreen asked, with the ongoing agricultural production of fruit trees and corn in the Chanute Fields project, whether there had been testing of the water for trichloroethylene (TCEs) and PCEs.

Carroll responded, “Those particular areas that have been planted in corn and other things such as the brambles and fruit trees are in areas that have previously been cleaned and did not require further investigation.”

Noreen asked if TCEs and PCEs that have been found in other parts of the former base could migrate to the agricultural areas during times of flooding.

Carroll said close tabs have been kept on the shallow groundwater.

“During all the remedies that CB&I put in, we established a monitoring well network that (provides) current information where those plumes are, where the groundwater is clean and where it’s not clean,” Carroll said.

The chemicals were found only in the shallow wisconsinan aquifer, Carroll said, and the  contamination hardly moves.

“Most of our sites (with contamination) are 50-100 feet across, including the groundwater contamination,” Carroll said.

Rokke asked if the environmental officials were considering monitoring field tiles that dump into area ditches. Carroll said the field tile discharge was monitored long ago.

As has been the case in several recent RAB meetings, Rokke and Carroll were at odds on several points — Rokke asking that now that the Department of Defense has acknowledged the health hazards from TCE, what can be done to notify people formerly stationed on the base about the extent of the contamination to ensure that medical help is provided.

Carroll said there were several bases where TCE was confirmed, but Chanute was not one of them where the drinking water had been contaminated.

Rokke responded that part of the wisconsinan aquifer had been contaminated.

“It’s not used for drinking water,” Carroll said of that aquifer. “It’s not used for crops or other use. That’s the Mahomet or the Illinoisan (aquifers). They are hydraulically separated from the wisconsinan aquifer.”

Switching subjects, Rokke said the Air Force has eliminated asbestos and lead-based paint from many of the facilities on the former base. He would like to determine if the government would expand that oversight to all former houses and apartments formerly occupied by Air Force personnel.

“You cannot transfer liability from the Air Force to the local homeowner,” Rokke said.

Carroll said the Air Force did have obligations for certain properties.

“We have followed through in all of those commitments,” Carroll said, noting that all housing with lead-based paint or asbestos “is the responsibility ... of the current lessee or the property owner. Asbestos is a disclosure (item). We made that notification.”

“But the Air Force installed it,” Rokke said.

Fellow RAB member Jack Anderson concurred with Carroll.

“The owner(s) know it’s not up to the Air Force to come back four owners later and say they’ll remove that now,” Anderson said.

Rokke then switched gears to the sledding hill at Brookhill Park, where it was believed by some that material from the former base might have been used to help form the hill. Rokke asked if an on-site survey can be conducted.

Carroll said the Environmental Protection Agency had made a request of the Air Force to check the sledding hill several years ago, and as a result, historical records were researched and interviews were conducted. The official said the EPA was informed there was no evidence “that any environmentally sensitive materials were transferred from Chanute to that location.”

Carroll said there was no record of where the material originated.

“There were newspaper reports that some of the materials came from Chanute but no indication they were hazardous or environmentally sensitive materials,” Carroll said.

Rokke asked if a core sampling could be undertaken.

Carroll said it couldn’t be.

“Even if they found something, there would be no way to trace it back to where it came from,” Carroll said.

Pete Johnson, an area drainage district official, noting that a large watershed goes through the base, questioned whether the federal government might somehow work with drainage officials to help alleviate area flooding.

Carroll said the Restoration Advisory Board’s only duties are to oversee the inspection and cleanup of the former air base. He suggested Johnson speak with village of Rantoul officials.

The next RAB meeting was set for noon Thursday, Nov. 16, at the Rantoul Business Center.

dhinton@rantoulpress.com

Categories (2):News, Environment

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