Regulators investigate Casper airport for WWII-era contamination

2014-07-25T08:30:00Z Regulators investigate Casper airport for WWII-era contaminationBy TREVOR GRAFF Casper Star-Tribune The Billings Gazette
July 25, 2014 8:30 am  • 

CASPER, Wyo. — The four-engine drone of the B-24 Liberator has long since faded at Casper/Natrona County International Airport.

But during World War II, the Casper Army Air Field, as it was then known, served as the final stop for bomber crews training for overseas assignments in Europe.

The bombers no longer inhabit the airport, but state and federal regulators don't know yet what they may have left behind.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency are investigating 12 sites at the airport for remnants of environmental contaminants dating back to the time of the bombers.

“This is pretty common,” said David Rathke, EPA Region 8 project manager. “Most of this was created back in the '40s during World War II. There certainly were not any environmental restrictions back then, and they pretty much had carte blanche on whatever they did, and there were a lot of people there.”

Casper Army Air Field was activated on Sept. 1, 1942, after the construction of more than 400 buildings in three months. After the war, on March 7, 1945, the base was deactivated and turned over in 1949 to Natrona County for its current purpose as a civilian airfield.

The site is designated a formerly used defense site, saddling the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with the responsibility to mitigate the environmental hazards on the site.

The Army began reviewing former military installations after the passage of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act in 1980.

"It's a long process depending on how contaminated the sites might be," said Hector Santiago, the Army Corps of Engineers' Omaha District program manager. "We are trying to be aggressive. We hope not to find anything, but if we do find something, we have a responsibility to take care of it."

Santiago said the Corps and the EPA have planned to evaluate the site since 2007, but funding for the project was not secured until this year.

Jane Francis, Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality geological supervisor, said the main concern for the site is chemical contamination in the area of a former landfill and sewage treatment plant.

Besides chemical contamination, workers could also find live ammunition in the area.

“I don’t think we have any reason to suspect anything larger than .50-caliber,” Francis said. “We’re going to pay attention to it during our investigation, but the likelihood of running into it is low.”

Investigators have completed their initial screening of the airport grounds. They have identified the exact location of the former landfill and sewage treatment sites after interviewing people who once worked on the base.

“Two people in our interviews described the Army as being meticulous in their concern for what they were doing,” Francis said. “That was good to hear, but there’s still potential for the contaminants to exist in this environment.”

The working group began fieldwork Wednesday to collect water samples, which will be used to determine what mitigation practices the site will require.

Fieldwork is expected to be completed this fall.

The group will deliver its report to the EPA in December. The report and administrative file for the investigation will be available for public viewing at the Natrona County Public Library.

For more information contact Francis at 307-777-7092.

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