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Abandoned Military Sites

What are they?

The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) uses land throughout the United States to train soldiers, airmen, sailors, and marines; build and test new weapons; store and service equipment; and maintain its fleet of vehicles, ships, and aircraft. As operating needs have changed, DoD has closed thousands of installations over the years. DoD either continues to own the properties or returns them to private or public uses.

These properties may be polluted due to their former use. This can make redevelopment difficult. Such sites must be cleaned up and checked for safety before they can be reused. DoD is responsible for cleaning up properties it owned or leased prior to October 1986. Such properties are known as Formerly Used Defense Sites. State and federal brownfields programs may also help developers safely use these sites for housing, retail stores, parks, and other purposes.

See also: Perchlorate Uranium

Why are they a concern?

Many military facilities have contamination on or near the property due to their former use. Possible locations of contamination may include: 

  • buildings
  • closed landfills
  • groundwater, wastewater, ponds, lakes, or streams
  • munitions and small-arms ranges
  • soil
  • tanks storing oil or hazardous chemicals
  • training or maneuvering areas
  • water towers and outdoor operational, storage, and maintenance facilities

There are other potential health hazards on these properties. Many have physical hazards, such as uncovered holes, unsafe structures, and sharp objects. Munitions stored on the site may accidentally go off during cleanup activities.

Who is at risk?

People entering these properties may be injured or exposed to toxic chemicals. People at risk may include: 

  • Real estate developers
  • Construction and environmental workers
  • Children playing at or exploring the site

What pollutants are of greatest concern?

Onsite pollution will depend on the activities that took place there. Pollutants may include:
Construction debris (lead-based paint or asbestos)

Reduce your risk

  • Do you live near an abandoned military site?
  • Do you use well water?
  • Routinely test well water for chemical contamination.
  • If your well water has high levels of chemicals, contact your local or state health agency or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for information on how to reduce your exposure to these chemicals.
  • Treat abandoned military sites as you would a hazardous waste site.
  • Avoid outdoor activities at abandoned military sites.
  • Children should not play at abandoned military sites. 
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