Safety top priority at Redstone Arsenal restoration site

Published July 19, 2022
Updated: July 19, 2022
The decontamination team works to clean any potentially contaminated personnel and equipment at the Redstone Arsenal restoration site.

The decontamination team works to clean any potentially contaminated personnel and equipment at the Redstone Arsenal restoration site.

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- The US Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville manages over 40 Military Munitions Response Program sites worldwide and at each of those sites, safety is the top concern.

Established under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, the MMRP is a restoration program that cleans up contaminants, hazardous substances, pollutants, and military munitions that remain from past activities at active military installations

To get an idea of the impact of safety plans at MMRP sites, look no further than the site at Redstone Arsenal, Alabama.

For more than 75 years, various entities at the sprawling Army installation used portions of a site there to dispose of munitions produced during World War II. In addition, the site was historically a waste area where a variety of munitions containing chemical warfare materiel were dumped.

Since Jan. 4, Huntsville Center technicians and contractors using geophysical instruments have identified more than 17,000 anomalies over two acres. According to Heather McDonald, an environmental engineer serving as Huntsville Center’s technical manager for the RSA project, a total of 961 munitions and explosives of concern have been removed. During the Phase I investigation at the site, two M70 chemical munitions were discovered. However, she said it was determined both were empty with no chemical weapons materiel residue in them.

While the mission of the MMRP is to “protect the lives and safety of citizens and soldiers by locating, removing, and disposing of munitions on past and current military installations,” Huntsville Center places safety at the forefront of the job.

Ashley Roeske, site project manager, said over 50 personnel are working on the project and they all undergo extensive site-specific training to receive approval to start intrusive operations.

 “The work plan they follow has been reviewed by government personnel for its adherence to USACE safety protocols,” Roeske said.

John Lewis, safety chief for Huntsville Center’s Chemical Warfare Materiel Design Center, said safety measures on site are taken very seriously.

According to Lewis, members of the field team receive health check-ups to ensure that they are physically fit to work the site and specially trained Emergency Medical Technicians monitor the health of the crews both prior to and after operations.

He said air conditions on the site are measured in real time by air monitoring systems to protect personnel working downrange who may encounter chemical weapons material and the crew carry gas masks to don if hazardous materials are detected.

Personnel Decontamination Stations are also used to assess personal protective equipment of crew prior to going downrange, Lewis said. Upon completion of operations, the decontaminations stations are used to clean any potentially contaminated personnel and equipment. Prior to returning home, the field team must undergo a second health screening by the onsite EMTs.

In the event of an accident or encounter with CWM, an ambulance remains on standby for the duration of operations.

“Knowing that munitions are present on site and may contain hazardous materiel, the safety of the field team is the number one priority,” Roeske said.

The completion of the Redstone project is expected to take several years.