REDSTONE ARSENAL, AL (WZDX) - Chemical agents used in World War II are forcing a major cleanup effort on Redstone Arsenal.
The munitions were buried there right after the war, and now, it'll take decades to cleanup.
"The reason that we're out here doing most of our work is stuff from WWII," says Chief of the Installation Restoration branch at Redstone Arsenal Terry de la Paz.
For Terry de la Paz and her team at Redstone Arsenal, the next several decades will be spent cleaning up what was left behind.
"Approved practices of the 40's and 50's made this a legitimate dump, and so we spend a lot of our time chasing after the past sons of our forefathers I guess," says Jason Watson, with the Installation Restoration branch.
This quarry, full of gas mask canisters from World War II, is just one of 17 sites that could contain the remnants of chemical weapons.
"The two biggest sites that we've got are these two right here," says de la Paz, pointing to two sites on a map of the Arsenal.
Some were manufactured right here on the Arsenal.
"Plant area 1 is the big focus for us, and that is located on NASA property. That one was used primarily for the production of mustard gas and Lewisite," says de la Paz.
Others were dumped here after World War II.
"So after the war, it was decided to bring all the munitions from Europe, back to the United States, to Redstone Arsenal. It's where they took these mortars, opened them up, drained the agent, and then took that metal item and put it into a trench somewhere," de la Paz says.
Through historical research and declassification of government records, Terry and her team now have an idea of what exactly is buried throughout six miles of trenches on the Arsenal.
"Right now, we've done some sampling in these areas, and there hasn't been a huge impact to groundwater. We have not found any chemical agent in the groundwater at all," says de la Paz. "The state's concern is as these things age, they rust, could you have future impacts to groundwater, you know, so that's one of the main reasons that the state has asked us to go in and dig all these things up."
And it won't be an easy, or fast, process.
The team won't actually be doing any digging on any of the sites until at least 2019.
"When we start digging up, that's going to be when there's going to be some concern. That's why we're taking the time to do a safety evaluation to make sure that our evacuation arc is large enough to make sure that if we do encounter one that goes boom, that blows up, that the particulate spread would be contained within that safety arc," de la Paz says.
And it could take decades before every site is cleaned up.
The total cost for the cleanup?
More than $1 billion dollars, for those 17 chemical weapon sites and hundreds of other smaller sites from things like chemical solvents and rocket manufacturing.
The Arsenal says the cleanup of those chemical weapons sites could be complete by 2042.
That gives the arsenal several decades to plan ahead for future use.
"The most important thing, it restores our environment back to as original as it can be, but it also provides us acreage to develop for future facilities and organizations to reside here as we look forward to re-stationing actions or if another BRAC happens, there'd be some more opportunities for that," says Colonel Bill Marks, Garrison Commander at Redstone Arsenal.
Colonel Marks says there's no word yet on whether Redstone Arsenal will be impacted by another round of BRAC in the near future.