EPA sets sights on Cape Cod military base in an effort to clean up drinking water

Since 1911, the U.S. military conducted training exercises at Joint Base Cape Cod. Over the years, fuel spills and byproducts from munitions testing and other similar activities have accumulated in the area's soil and groundwater, threatening the aquifer that runs beneath the base and provides drinking water for residents of Cape Cod.

More than a century after the base opened, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in consultation with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (Mass DEP), has issued the final strategies to get it cleaned up.

The plans focus on two areas at Joint Base Cape Cod, the Small Arms Ranges and the "J-3" Range, both of which lie within the largest of the base's installations, Camp Edwards.

The Small Arms Ranges are a group of 40 active and inactive ranges where small arms ammunition has been used for military training since World War II. This training involved the use of propellant-related chemicals, including lead, antimony and nitroglycerine, as well as metals associated with projectiles, which includes lead, copper, tungsten and antimony. Over time, these chemicals have contributed to soil and groundwater contamination throughout the site.

The EPA's proposed clean up activities at the Small Arms Ranges include removing contaminated soil to eliminate threats to the Cape Cod Aquifer from several ranges, as well as conducting long-term groundwater monitoring and controlling land use to provide early warning of any future groundwater contamination at other ranges.

The J-3 Range, which lies in the southeast portion of Joint Base Cape Cod, was also home to military small arms training, munitions testing and munitions disposal between 1935 and the late 1990s. To clean up the J-3 Range, the EPA suggests using several soil and groundwater remediation strategies, including:

  • Extracting contaminated groundwater to reduce contaminant levels in the aquifer
  • Monitoring natural processes in the groundwater
  • Controlling land use
  • Performing soil sampling and geophysical investigations to ensure that all soil that poses a threat to the aquifer is removed.

The U.S. Army National Guard will complete the cleanups under the authority of the Safe Drinking Water Act.