Study: former ordnance depot poses no significant risks

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 6, 2003

SUFFOLK (AP) – The former Nansemond Ordnance Depot does not pose significant health risks to neighboring residents or businesses or students who now attend classes at the old military post, a federal study concludes.

The report by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry addresses several concerns about the 975-acre ordnance depot, which handled chemical and conventional weapons during World Wars I and II.

Notably, investigators said they did not believe former employees or students at the Tidewater Community College got sick from drinking water from tainted groundwater on the property. The study said past exposure was &uot;too low to result in adverse health effects.”


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The campus started supplying bottled water to staff members in 1994 and then connected to a city water line one year later, after tests that showed traces of lead and the explosive TNT in several samples.

In addition, the investigators also found no risk in drinking water from nearby private wells or from eating fish taken from a campus lake.

The former ordnance depot was put on the national Superfund list of toxic waste sites in 1999 after a youth stumbled onto TNT in 1987 and triggered an investigation into the former depot.

&uot;It seems that cleanup actions to date are pretty much on the mark,” said Jill J. Dyken, an environmental health specialist. &uot;Of course, we’re recommending continued vigilance and, if something new turns up, we’ll be back.”

The report, released Thursday night at a hearing, cautioned that elevated levels of lead and TNT in the soil could pose health risks to small children if sections of the property were redeveloped for housing.

At least one project on the western fringe of the site, near the Nansemond River, includes residential units. The Army Corps of Engineers, which has been cleaning up the site, said no homes would be put near areas where remnants of old ammunition and shell casings have been discovered, nor are those areas zoned for residential development.

An official with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also said recent samples of surface soils revealed no traces of chemical weaponry.

Activists have worried for years that chemical agents might be buried on the property.

&uot;What we’re saying is that anyone walking the site would not likely come across chemical warfare agents,” said Rob Thomson, an EPA hazardous-waste expert.

An engineering firm also said it found nothing of concern in samples of the James and Nansemond rivers around the former depot, out 1 mile from shore. Experts were worried that contaminants or unexploded ordnance might have shifted offshore.

The Army Corps, which last summer unearthed more than 500 pounds of TNT from a 9-acre portion of the campus, is about to cover that area with geotextile &uot;blanket” and clean dirt until more field analysis can be completed.