ICE Case Studies

Case Number: 38

Case Mnemonic: ARSENAL

Case Name: ARSENAL Base Clean-Up

Case Author: Brian Shannon, Summer 1997


1. Abstract

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal was a chemical and conventional weapons production facility for the Army from the 1940's to the 1960's. Weapons were destroyed at the Arsenal through the 1980's. Part of the facility was also leased to the Shell Oil Company from 1952 to 1987 for production of herbicides and pesticides at the site. In July 1987, Rocky Mountain Arsenal was placed on the Environmental Protection Agency's National Priorites List, because of extensive soil and water contamination.

2. Description

The Army choose the site for the Arsenal for several reasons. One, it was not near the coastline so the Japanese would not be able to attack. Two, Denver was a good site becuase it was accessable by highways, rail and even an airport. However, despite being close to transportation the site was also away from the metropolitan area (at the time). Construction of the Arsenal began on June 30, 1942

Three major chemicals were produced at Rocky Mountain Arsenal during the 1940's for war use; mustard gas, Lewisite, and chlorine gas. Chlorine gas was only manufactured because it was used in Lewisite and mustard gas. Lewisite is the more lethal of the two agents and was manufactured by combining chlorine, acetylene and arsenic

Although the Arsenal was put on stand-by status in May 1947, Cold War events like the North's invasion of South Korea forced the Army to reactivate the Arsenal on October 30, 1950. White phosphorus-filled munitions, artillery shells filled with distilled mustard, and incendiary cluster bombs wer manufactured during the Korean War period at the Arsenal.

The Arsenal began producing a new agent between 1953 and 1957, the GB nerve agent. During this period, the Arsenal was the largest producer of this agent in the free world. The production of the agent produced contaminants that had to be disposed of. Before 1956, waste products were pumped into unlined evaporation ponds. But by 1956, due to the huge quantity of GB being produced, a new disposal solution had to be found. The solution was the construction of a man-made waste holding evaporation pond, called Basin F. This pond had a capacity of 243 million gallons and had a sealed 3/8-inch thick asphalt liner. Vitrified clay pipes with chemically sealed joints carried liquid wastes to the basin.

By the early 1960's, signs of off-post contamination began to manifest themselves. In response, the Army began built a Pressure Injection Disposal Well that would pump 175 million gallons of treated waste material to a depth of 12,000 feet into the earth. By the mid-1960's reports surfaced of native and migratory waterfowl dying when exposed to the polluted Arsenal lakes. In April of 1964 the Colorado Game, Fish and Parks Commission voted to file an objection with the Secretary of Defense and the Shell Company-- which had begun leasing space at the Arsenal for production of chemicals in 1952--because of the large number of ducks that were dying as a result of exposure to water areas at the Arsenal. In response to the public outcry against the contamination, Shell and the Arsenal worked together to drain two of the three lakes. After up to 18 inches worth of contaminated mud was removed from the lake areas new soil was brought in.

By the mid-1970's the main function of the arsenal was to destroy GB nerve agent bombs. However, the process of destruction created toxic by-products that polluted off-post drinking water. The Colorado Heath Department ordered the Army and Shell Chemical to stop polluting ground and surface waters north of the Arsenal substances known as DIMP (diisopropylmethylphosphonate) an industrial waste produced during the destruction of nerve gas and DCPD (dicyclopentadiene) which was used by Shell Chemical in the manufacture of insecticides. Based on these events, the Army began to investigate the extent of the off-post contamination of shallow groundwater. The Army's goal was to contain the existing pollution and prevent the spreading of pollution into new areas. In late 1982, the head of the EPA, an Assistant Sectretary of the Army, a representative of the Shell Oil Company, and the leader of the Colorado Department of Health announced they would cooperate in a decontamination plan for the Arsenal. However, the agreement fell apart and eventually the Army sued Shell in 1983 to recover cost cleanup damages and a portion of the cost of the cleanup of the site. The litigation intensified when the state of Coloraldo sued the United States and Shell for damages to natural resources.

The cleanup of Basin F--the man-made waste holding evaporation pond--continued despite the ongoing litigation. In 1982 the Army removed the underground sewer lines to Basin F and built a dike around the pound. The Army also installed an enhanced evaporation system to reduce the existing volume of liquid. The permanent cleanup and closure of Basin F began in early 1988. Three 4 million-gallon steel holding tanks and a lined-pond, which held an additional 8.5 million gallons, were used to store the liquid wastes pumped out of the Basin. Over 480,000 cubic yards of contaminated sludge was removed to a secure waste pile approved by the EPA. The waste was permanently disposed through the use of Submerged Quench Incineration (SQI). The Basin F was added to the National Priorities List in 1989. Once cleanup is completed--209 contaminated sites still exist--the Arsenal land will be transferred to the Department of the Interior. Congress passed legislation in 1992 that designated the Arsenal location as a National Wildlife Refuge when cleanup is complete. More than 300 species of birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and fish can found at the site.

3. Duration: 1982-now

4. Location

Continent: North America

Region: West North America

Country: USA

5. Actors: USA

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Pollution Land

7. Type of Habitat: Temperate

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

USA            USA                 Base Clean Up

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict: State

10. Level of Conflict: Warharm

11. Fatality Level of Dispute: 0

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics: Indirect

13. Level of Strategic Interest: State

14. Outcome of Dispute: Compromise

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

TED Cases

ICE Cases

Go to MURUROA Case

Go to VIETNAM Case

16. Relevant Websites and Literature

Relevant Literature

General Accounting Office: Environmental Cleanup: Progress in Resolving Long Standind Issues at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal [NSIAD-96-32]

Relevant Web Sites

Go to All ICE Cases

Go to ICE Home Page

December, 1997