Wisconsin Directs Military to Comply with State Groundwater Regulations

[NOTE: This could be a precedent for what happens at Truax…stay tuned]


The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) has issued a formal letter to the U.S. Army cautioning the military that it must fully comply with state environmental regulations in pending cleanup decisions at the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant (Badger) located in rural Sauk County.

In its response to the Army’s March 2020 PFAS investigation at Badger, the WDNR emphasized that Superfund law (CERCLA) “does not give the federal government sovereign immunity from adhering to state regulations.”

WDNR also stated that the Army is still responsible for cleaning up all contaminants, including toxic chemicals like PFAS, that do not yet have numerical standards. Testing by the U.S. Army detected low concentrations of PFAS chemicals at former fire-training areas at Badger.

“The lack of promulgated numerical cleanup standards for a hazardous substance does not prevent an entity in Wisconsin from responding to a discharge of PFAS in Wisconsin,” the WDNR’s May 15 letter said.

The groundwater contamination at Badger has a long history. In fact, it was 30 years ago this month that the U.S. Army first revealed groundwater contamination from Badger was an imminent threat to nearby drinking water wells. Today, four distinct groundwater contaminant plumes still plague the community, migrating past the plant boundary and discharging explosives and solvents to surface water and wetlands of the Wisconsin Riverway.

In a separate letter to the Army, the WDNR commented on potential solutions for site-wide groundwater contamination, particularly the Deterrent Burning Grounds (DBG) plume in the town of Merrimac. The contaminant source area is a former hazardous waste disposal site inside the old munitions plant boundary.

Active remediation (as opposed to relying solely on monitored natural attenuation) may be necessary in the downgradient portion of the DBG plume due to the rising contaminant concentrations, WDNR said.

WDNR noted that groundwater sampling suggests that groundwater contaminant plumes located in the Town of Merrimac area are expanding and recommended that an enhanced monitoring network be developed and installed, adding that “long-term use of residential wells as the primary means of plume delineation is unacceptable.”

The Army recently announced that it is investigating the occurrence of the industrial solvent trichloroethylene (TCE) in residential wells located on Weigand’s Bay North. TCE was detected above the groundwater enforcement standard in in three residential wells. Another three homes had low levels of TCE below the health-based standard.

Army contractors plan to conduct soil borings upgradient of the residential wells and install a push drilling machine to test groundwater. The boring locations are intended to capture groundwater flow between Badger and this neighborhood.

PHOTOGRAPH: Groundwater contamination from Badger discharges to these wetlands at Weigand’s Bay North on Lake Wisconsin – the Army maintains the annual discoloration following the spring thaw is unrelated.

Complete text and reference documents posted online at https://cswab.org/wisconsin-directs-military-to-comply-with-state-groundwater-regulations/

Laura Olah | Executive Director
Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger | www.CSWAB.org
E12629 Weigand’s Bay South, Merrimac, WI 53561
P: 608 643 3124 | E: info@cswab.org

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