The International Information Center for Geotechnical Engineers

Investigating Soil Remediation Techniques for Military Explosive and Weapons Contaminated Sites



The United States Army has estimated that over 1.2 million tons of soil across its various facilities is currently contaminated due to explosives [1].  This contamination can be found in a variety of locations, from formerly used munitions processing plants to active ammunition storage facilities to active ranges and artillery impact zones where training is ongoing.  Outside the United States, the problem can be found not only amongst currently military facilities, but also in the remnants of minefields and battlefields from past and current conflicts.  Due to the nature of ongoing conflicts, the remote location of training centers, and the danger of unexploded ordnance (UXO), site access for remediation of such contaminants is not always feasible or cost effective.  However, the United States military and government is now armed with the knowledge that TNT and other explosives are known Group C carcinogens dangerous to both humans and the environment, thus justifying the necessity to remediate these contaminated sites before they create a greater hazard [2]


Past methods for disposal of military explosive and munitions waste have included dumping at sea, dumping in specified landfills, and incineration [1].  Not only are these methods harmful to the environment, they are neither cost effective nor sustainable for a long term clean environment plan.  In current range operations at demolitions sites, the range requirement for military units is to replace any craters created using explosives by simply filling in the hole with surrounding site soil.  Over time, this simply churns the soil and transports the contamination closer to the groundwater table.  The majority of TNT and RDX contamination found on training ranges today is lying on and near the surface (less than 1 foot underground) and is the primary source of soil, ground, and surface water contamination [3].


There is currently no best practice approved by the military for the remediation of the contaminated soil at its facilities and training sites; current practices rely on transporting the contaminated soil off site to be treated, which can unsurprisingly be a costly venture (and thus why proper remediation on military facilities are underutilized.)  In order for on-site remediation to be an effective practice, a method must fit several criteria, including (1) be easily applied over a large area, (2) be easily applied without the need for special equipment or operators, (3) be cost effective, and (4) be able to be applied as part of normal site operations.  Although military training sites often encompass hundreds of square miles, there is very limited space from which to conduct explosives training due to other environmental restrictions such as noise levels and endangered animal habitats.  Typically there is only one demolitions range and one hand grenade range per military post, meaning that there is a concentration of contaminates on these sites compared to the rest of the military post.  In addition, only having limited numbers of facilities means limitation to closing sites such as these for prolonged periods that would disrupt training required for deployments worldwide.  Ideally, a remediation solution would be simple enough to be applied by the land user, such as an Army Combat Engineer unit that utilizes its own heavy equipment to apply a solution, and therefore not only remediates the soil but also gains invaluable equipment training in the process.  Additionally, this process can be applied as part of everyday range operations, making costs more effective and predictable, and ensuring that the solution is sustainable and easily replicated across military facilities throughout the country.   


Within our investigations, we begin with a historical look into military facilities around the world, followed by a brief introduction of the chemistry of typical military explosives. Following this, a discussion on the environmental effects of military explosives on humans and the surrounding environment will be addressed. Lastly, current and prospective remediation processes will be compared.

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