Army finds traces of mercury at Totten

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An early report on the results from this summer's testing came at the tail end of last Thursday's Coast Guard Restoration Advisory Board meeting at the Ernie Pyle Reserve Center. The group - which has been overwhelmed by internal conflicts - spent nearly two hours of the meeting just establishing operating procedures.

David Brouwer, project manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, emphasized that his agency had not had time to analyze the results and said "this is brand new data for us."

Brouwer and his assistant, Steve Wood, said they would have a more definitive analysis of the test results at the group's March meeting.

Mercury was discovered at the Civil War-era fort in 1985 in a drainpipe of Building 615 by the U.S. Coast Guard, which shared the base with the Army. Army Corps officials said the metal was present after years of repairs to mercury-filled torpedo guidance systems, which were maintained at the fort.

The Army, which vacated the base in 1995, agreed to remove the mercury in May 1998. The city was slated to take over the base as parkland in the next couple of years. This year Brouwer has maintained that he could not uphold the clean-up promise until he knew the results of this summer's testing.

Army and environmental agencies working on the cleanup of Fort Totten have maintained over the past year that no contaminants have been found in dangerous levels at the fort.

The Coast Guard RAB has been bedeviled by infighting and conflict since the Army introduced a proposal to reform the group to boost its attendance. The revitalization of the RAB was completed this fall, with nine current members being reappointed and several new ones added.

Some protested the revitalization plan as an effort by the Army to derail their clean-up efforts.

The Army Corps reported last week that each of the 16 locations around Little Bay tested this summer produced mercury, including one sample taken 800 feet away from shoreline and several 10 feet below the ground.

Of the 175 sediment samples taken, the ones nearest Building 615 - where the element was originally found - showed trace amounts of mercury.

Far fewer samples were tested in Little Bay, but of the four taken from the surface of the water and two near the floor of the bay, low levels of undissolved mercury were found, Wood said. No dissolved mercury - which is more toxic - was detected.

Community Co-chairman Richard Jannaccio, who in the past has aggressively pressed for extensive testing that Brouwer contended was beyond the Army Corps' budget, said the results were supposed to show how far and deep the mercury went.

When Jannaccio pointed to specific test results available to RAB members but not the general public at the meeting, Brouwer said: "I don't know at this point in time what that means. We need to look at the data further."

Several areas outside Little Bay were also tested for mercury and other contaminants, including soil and groundwater samples.

According to the preliminary results, several different elements were discovered in groundwater monitoring wells, Wood said.

Of the five monitoring wells tested, early results showed chloroform, aluminum, antimony, iron and sodium in the groundwater at levels above the state standard.

Mercury was not found.

Posted 7:16 pm, October 10, 2011
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