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    Cleaning up former munitions sites

    Cleaning up former munitions sites

    Photo By George Jumara | The UXO Safety Clubhouse is currently available on the Savannah District website,...... read more read more



    Story by Maj. David Wheeler 

    U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District

    SAVANNAH, Ga. -- Last fall, a boy, playing in a pile of dirt outside Macon, Ga., on part of the former Camp Wheeler, found an interesting metal item. He and his friends played with the object, before he took it home. It sat in the garage for several weeks until a neighbor looked at it and suggested that the family should have the sheriff’s department inspect it.

    Sheriff's officials confirmed the neighbor's fears: it was unexploded ordnance left over from World War II. The boys had found a practice mortar, but it had no explosive left inside. While this incident ended safely, it highlights the risk of finding ordnance items on former Department of Defense training areas and the need to ensure that residents know how to respond when they find these items.

    “Some of these old munitions could damage a house, maim someone, or even kill them,” said Julie Hiscox, a senior project manager who oversees much of the Formerly Used Defense Sites Program for the Savannah District. “We face constant challenges to identify UXO [unexploded ordnance], determine how best to deal with it, and to keep the public informed.”

    With 1,050 FUDS locations in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, and North and South Carolina, Hiscox takes each clean up job seriously.

    “Most of these sites are very small and only some of them actually have munitions,” Hiscox said, “but even limited impacts like small petroleum contamination add up in the environment.” Larger projects, like the one at former Camp Wheeler affect people directly.

    “We’ve discovered live mortar rounds buried in yards and gardens,” she said. “We quickly notify the local authorities and the community members themselves. We’ve had wonderful cooperation from everyone as we respond to these situations.”

    Hiscox and her team, along with ordnance disposal firms contracted to conduct research and removal, canvass specific neighborhoods informing people about the potential dangers. The Corps also conducts public information workshops to engage local residents in the process. “The more people know and understand about our program, the more they support our efforts.”

    The type of cleanup required varies from property to property. Within the FUDS Program, cleanup projects fall into one or more of the following categories:

    • identifying, investigating and cleaning up hazardous, toxic, and radioactive waste sites; and
    • correcting other environmental contamination such as that caused by ordnance and explosives.

    The Army serves as the DoD Executive Agent for FUDS, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers carries out the program. Through the FUDS Program, the Army responds to DoD-generated pollution that occurred before the property transferred to private owners or to federal, state, tribal, or local government organizations. The Corps has identified more than 2,700 sites in the U.S. where the DoD formerly had activity. Some are an acre or less. Some sites, like the one near Macon, can cover thousands of acres.

    The Savannah District uses a number of tools to keep the public informed and educated about FUDS and its cleanup operations. These include direct mail to impacted residents, public workshops, community meetings, school programs and websites.

    Since educating children is a particular concern for the Wheeler and other munitions locations, Savannah District created a website—the UXO Safety Clubhouse—to provide information in a way that would keep children's interest while they learn about the “three R's” of UXO Safety-- Recognize, Retreat, Report.

    The UXO Safety Clubhouse is currently available on the Savannah District website, www.sas.usace.army.mil. The site uses games and animation to warn children of the dangers of UXO and how to respond should they find any suspicious items. “The Savannah District will work with parents and schools to promote use of the Clubhouse to educate children in specific areas, such as the communities surrounding the former Camp Wheeler near Macon, Georgia,” said Hiscox. “Children can play, learn, and then print a UXO Safety Certificate to document their achievement.”

    Even the adult education programs emphasize the “three R’s” of UXO. The Corps wants residents to recognize suspicious items, even those rusted from decades under the soil. Once recognized, people are instructed to evacuate the area but leave a marking so they can direct authorizes to the site. Finally, the program directs the finder to contact local law enforcement authorities to report the find.

    The team has given ordnance safety presentations to emergency responders, public utilities personnel, law enforcement and local schools in addition to holding public information sessions. Last year, members of the team walked through one neighborhood, knocking on doors to talk to residents, in response to that practice mortar found by the local boy. The team’s prime concern remains the safety of the people in the Camp Wheeler community.

    “We certainly don’t want anyone taking the item home as a souvenir,” Hiscox said.

    Hiscox and the district’s “Wheeler” team were recently recognized with one of the district’s highest awards for its community outreach work, including the new UXO website for children. The award recognized the team’s “excellent achievement in delivering products and services to its customers.”

    The UXO team faces the continuing challenge of a mobile society. New residents move in, new communities are built and new businesses locate on formerly used defense sites. Education will continue for many years so that the dangers of unexploded ordnance reach new members of communities and so that children—outside for a day of fun—are aware of what to do when they encounter another one of the interesting metal objects.



    Date Taken: 10.10.2011
    Date Posted: 10.13.2011 14:49
    Story ID: 78453
    Location: SAVANNAH, GA, US 

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