Operation Restore Earth

The U.S. Military Gets Ready to Clean Up After the Cold War

Below eerily quiet, clean-looking vistas, plumes of toxic chemicals have tainted soil and grounwater at every military installation in the country. Millions of gallons of solvents were dumped into the ground at Air Force bases from Alaska to Florida; at an Army ammunition plants across the country, vast quantities of explosive compounds have washed into the groundwater. At many of these bases, the pollution has migrated into neighboring comunities. Military officials often knew of these environmental threats but failed to notify the public or their own personnel of the dangers. At the Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant in Grand Island, Nebraska, high levels of toxic explosive compounds such as TNT and RDX (Research and Development Explosive) had been found in groundwater below the plant since the 1970s. Army tests in 1983 discovered that these toxic wastes had migrated far beyond the base border. But neighboring residents—who drew upon this groundwater with private wells for drinking and agriculture—didn’t hear from the Army until more than a year later.