Site of the treaty signing ending WWII between the US and Japan located in Pearl Harbor Hawaii.

Contaminated WWII Munitions Legacy Sites


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World War II was the deadliest and most widespread war in history, taking place in 1939 through 1945 involving 30 countries across the globe. The United States became heavily involved in World War II shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Prior to the war, the United States army was ranked 39th in the world and was still using horses to pull its heavy artillery. President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew the United States military would have to grow exponentially and become far more powerful. This triggered an enormous home front effort to accompany and assist those going off to battle and fighting over seas. U.S. Industry began producing wartime products at extremely high rates. The U.S. produced hundreds of thousands of vehicles, aircrafts, and tanks; in addition, nearly 200,000 artillery pieces were produced throughout the United States. The mass production of artillery for the war resulted in excess heavy artillery, such as mortar shells and bombs, at the conclusion of the war. Heavy artillery shells were disposed of by either detonation, burial, or burning in burn pits. Unfortunately, the potential effects of the artillery’s chemicals on the environment was not fully understood during this time period. The EPA estimates that nearly 15 million acres of land in the U.S. could be contaminated from production, improper disposal, and decommission of munitions. Today, these sites are known as munitions legacy sites.

“Powerful enemies must be out-fought and out-produced. It is not enough to turn out just a few more planes, a few more tanks, a few more guns, a few more ships than can be turned out by our enemies, We must out-produce them overwhelmingly, so that there can be no question of our ability to provide a crushing superiority of equipment in any theatre of the world war.”

-President Franklin D. Roosevelt

Munitions legacy sites

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a munitions legacy site as the hazardous materials and unexploded ordnances left behind from military munitions and explosives of concern (MEC). These hazardous materials may have been left behind from live military fire, production, open burning and detonations, and munitions treatment, destruction, and burial activities. E2S works with clients across the northeast and Midwest in assisting in the remediation of munitions legacy sites.

E2S is currently involved in the active remediation of multiple munitions legacy sites. These sites utilized open burning pits for the disposal of waste products generated during the manufacture of explosive products. Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from the solvents leached into the site’s underlying soil and groundwater. These sites fall under Federal or State oversight, and sometimes both Agencies are involved in certain aspects of the project. Often the investigation and remediation of these site falls under the Federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which is administered by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA). Sites can sometimes enter a State’s voluntary cleanup program (VCP), which provide a framework for acquiring a release of environmental liability from the State agency. E2S’s services include developing plans to characterize the extent of contamination through the installation of soil borings and groundwater monitoring wells, use of borehole geophysical techniques, and groundwater modeling to target discrete water bearing zones at varying depths within an aquifer. The goal of the project is to demonstrate attainment of a VCP standard and receive a Release of Liability for current and future owners for contaminated groundwater. Sometimes this is accomplished by using engineering and institutional controls. This approach can save significant time and money by eliminating the need for indefinite monitoring and reporting.

It is not uncommon for these sites to have also produced ammonia, nitrate, urea, acid salts, and other explosives; in addition, some sites also neutralized acid waste, utilized burning grounds for the thermal treatment of explosives, and often utilized onsite landfills. These sites are monitored for many constituents of concern, including, ammonia, nitrate, perchlorate, and nitroaromatic explosives. Often soil and groundwater is impacted as a result of these historic practices.

E2S works as a partner with our clients and regulatory agencies to monitor and remediate these sites. Active remediation techniques, such as in situ chemical oxidation, bioremediation, and remediation systems, can be effective in reducing contaminant concentrations to acceptable levels. Passive remediation techniques can often be used to meet regulatory standards as well. For instance, monitored natural attenuation can often reduce active remediation costs. By conducting risk assessments and fate and transport modeling of contaminant plumes, E2S has helped multiple clients meet site specific based standards that remain protective of human health and the environment while providing economic benefits to the client.

We’re proud of our remediation efforts at these munitions legacy sites and are often humbled by the role in history that they have played. Without the efforts of these sites here at home, our men and women in uniform may have never had the supplies necessary to carry out the mission at hand.