ATSDR Releases Allegany Ballistics Laboratory Health Report, West Virginia

Monday, May 22, 2006
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A report released by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) says that some past practices at Navy-owned property at Allegany Ballistics Laboratory (ABL), in Mineral County, West Virginia, have released contaminants into the environment. The agency’s conclusions are provided below.

ABL is a 1,577-acre facility that operates along the North Branch Potomac River. The nearest residents live less than a mile away in Allegany County, Maryland. ATSDR looked at five different ways that local residents might have been exposed to environmental contamination at ABL in the past, present, or future:

  • Local drinking water quality. Past operations at ABL have contaminated the groundwater at several on-site locations. Contaminants include chemicals from solvents and residues from propellants and explosives. ABL has taken action to prevent the contamination from moving off site and affecting local drinking water supplies. Sampling data have shown that ABL’s water supply and local municipal water supplies are not affected by ABL contamination. ATSDR has recommended that the Navy sample private wells serving homes located along McKenzie Tower Road to ensure that ABL’s preventive actions have been successful. ATSDR also recommends that owners of private wells serving homes located in Pinto and along McKenzie Tower Road have their drinking water tested to ensure that the well water is safe to drink due to concerns about other contamination that may have occurred from past farming, mining and manufacturing practices.
  • Air emissions from open burning and other operations. ATSDR finds that air emissions from open burning of waste material at ABL do not pose a health hazard to nearby residents. ATSDR believes that current operating permits issued by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection ensure that all air emissions from all sources at ABL do not pose a health hazard to local residents.
  • Contamination in the North Branch Potomac River. Pollutants in the North Branch Potomac River come from many industrial sources (including ABL), municipal sources, and agricultural sources. Because of the high river flow, releases from ABL are diluted considerably. Downstream drinking water supplies and downstream farms that use river water for irrigation should not be affected by these pollutants. Fish in the river have elevated levels of contamination that came primarily from sources upstream of ABL. Residents can avoid the hazards posed by eating the fish by following the West Virginia fishing advisories.
  • Eating local game. Deer and other wildlife may have eaten mineral soil while feeding on grasses, shrubs, and roots at ABL. Deer tissue samples at ABL have never been collected. However sampling studies conducted at other facilities with similar environmental contamination issues suggest that environmental contaminants at ABL are not in deer meat at levels of heath concern.
  • Potential for explosive gases. Some inactive waste disposal sites at ABL contain methane gas. Methane gas can lead to explosions and fires if it gathers in confined spaces. Methane gas at ABL waste sites do not pose explosion hazards due to site access restrictions, limited land use, the levels of methane gas currently measured, and deed restrictions preventing land use near the waste sites.

The ATSDR report is available for viewing at:

La Vale Public Library
815 National Highway
La Vale, Md.
Fort Ashby Public Library
Box 74, Lincoln Street
Fort Ashby, W. Va.

The public can also request a copy of the report from ATSDR. The public comment period runs through June 16. Comments on the public health assessment must be made in writing. Mail comments to:

Chief, Program Evaluation, Records and Information Services Branch
1600 Clifton Road, N.E., Mailstop E-32
Atlanta, Ga. 30333

Comments received during the public comment period will be logged in to ATSDR’s administrative record for the health assessment. Comments received, without the names of individuals who submitted them, and ATSDR’s responses to the comments will appear in an appendix to the final public health assessment. Names of those who submit comments, however, will be subject to release via requests made under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act.

For more information, community members can contact Environmental Health Scientist Charles Grosse toll-free at 1-888-422-8737. Regional Representative Karl Markewicz also may be contacted at 215-814-3149. Callers should say they are calling about the Allegany Ballistics Laboratory.

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Page last reviewed: May 22, 2006