Possible ground and water contamination from ammunition fired in World War II at the Pratt Army Air Base is under examination as part of a nation wide program to identify all potential hazardous shooting practice sites and prioritize them.


Possible ground and water contamination from ammunition fired in World War II at the Pratt Army Air Base is under examination as part of a nation wide program to identify all potential hazardous shooting practice sites and prioritize them.

The Army Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Environmental Protection Agency are evaluating shooting practice areas for lead and perchlorate contamination, said John Miller, Army Corps of Engineers project manager.

Perchlorate is a chemical used in tracer rounds. Perchlorate can get into the water table and in high enough levels can cause human health issues, Miller said.

Each area is prioritized by risk for explosives ammunition or explosives of concern for lead or chemicals.

Lead was used as an ammunition ball jacket and can also cause health problems. The goal of the program is to evaluate each World War II practice site across the nation for contamination and take whatever action is necessary to eliminate any hazard, Miller said. 

There were several practice ranges at the airfield including sites for 50 caliber submachine guns, small caliber rifle, pistol range and three skeet ranges. Gunners learned how to lead targets at the skeet ranges.

Other practice sites in the county, including the area of the current Pratt Sandhills Wildlife Area were used by aircraft for target practice and will be evaluated as well. Some targets were pulled by jeeps, some were towed by other aircraft for in-air practice as well as aircraft on the ground firing into a buttress or berm to set the sites on the guns, Miller said.
The investigation is expected to turn up very little live rounds. The concern is to locate high levels of lead or perchlorate.

The program has four steps. Step one is searching archives, step two is site inspection, step three is remedial investigation to determine what if anything needs to be done and step four is remedial design and removal.

The project is at step two. On step three samples will be gathered at each site and evaluated to determine if any hazardous materials are present.

While some of the sites are still on government land, many sites are now in the hands of private owners.

Kansas has the most sites of any state to be checked with 34. Those sites include airfields, practice bombsites, air to ground gunnery ranges and so on.

The sites are ranked for hazard levels ranging from one to five with one being the most hazardous. From all investigations so far, all the Pratt sites are rated at the lowest level of five, Miller said. 

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is lead agency for the project and they are responsible to evaluate and document all findings and make sure all activity complies with state regulations, said Jorge Jacobs, KDHE super fund unit chief of assessment and restoration section.

The KDHE will evaluate each site, the methods used at each site, identify any problems and submit their data, Jacobs said.

The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring the project and working with the agencies as they search for hazardous materials. The EPA worked with the Corps and KDHE to established a plan for anticipated fieldwork at the airfield.

So far, nothing unexpected has come up, said Paul Roemerman, EPA Region VII site assessment manager.