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Dear Friends of Lake Michigan,
Over a year ago, at the October 1997 Restoration Advisory Board (RAB), I
asked why no risk assessment was being conducted into the estimated
1,000,000 rounds of artillery fired off Fort Sheridan during and after
WWII. I was told by both Colleen Reilly, Base Environmental
Coordinator, and Owen Thompson, U.S.EPA Base Closure Team, that Lake
Michigan was public property which was not being transferred so did not
fall under the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) environmental
remediation process. I was also warned that the rule of thumb is that
10% of artillery would be unexploded ordnance (UXO) so cleanup efforts
would be very dangerous.
I was not satisfied. I countered that the lake had been used as an
official artillery range so should fall under BRAC. This fell on deaf
ears. I also brought up that the Lincoln Park Gun Club had been
assessed under U.S.EPA Superfund authority but was told, again, that
this was not an area for BRAC.
I then requested, under Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law, the data
sheets which would show what kinds of chemicals were used in the six
types of artillery reportedly fired. I received this in December of
1997. By June of 1998 I had gone through these data sheets and
tabulated the approximate volume of the chemicals TNT, RDX, and Tetryl.
These are all toxic substances and the numbers were enormous. The only
assumption I made was an even distribution among the six types of
artillery. Otherwise, the 100,000 rounds of UXO and the amounts of
chemicals in each shell came from Army data and estimates.
In June of 1998 I filed a petition with the U.S. EPA under the Superfund
law, as part of the National Contingency Plan, to conduct a Preliminary
Assessment (PA) based on my data. The PA was conducted to determine if
the site qualified under Superfund to be placed on the National
Priorities List (NPL). The bright line score of 28.5 can be assumed to
have been achieved as the U.S.EPA just wrote me on 12-14-98 that the
next step towards placement as a Superfund site, a Site Investigation
(SI) was warranted. I say assumed because the U.S.EPA will not tell me
the score as they feel it is protected as an enforcement tool. Fine.
The implication is clear that the score was high enough.
Due to the inability of the U.S. EPA and Illinois EPA to address the
specific details involved in sampling for explosives, however, the SI is
being thrown back into the BRAC process. Over a year later and we are
doing what should have been considered prudent in the first place. All
I ever asked was that there be a Risk Assessment.
Some personal observations. When I filed my petition with the U.S.EPA
and set up a website at:
I came under immediate fire from an Army Colonel at the Pentagon in
charge of explosive safety and Colleen Reilly that my numbers for RDX
were inflated. They argued that the data sheets they sent were only
"representative" and did not address the fact that the WWII time period
made it unlikely that RDX was a constituent. So actually they were
arguing that their data sheets were not representative even though my
FOIA request specifically stated that I was interested in the Fort
They said that TNT, while toxic, breaks down rapidly in water. What
they did not say, which I learned from a toxicologist is that the
breakdown compounds are also toxic and can recombine into chemicals more
toxic than the original TNT. The TNT also readily attaches to the
sediment so it would not necessarily breakdown. I also quizzed Colleen
Reilly about the very high concentrations of RDX reported in groundwater
in the Executive Summary for the DoD Operable Unit (Southern Fort
Sheridan) and how they could be accounted for if RDX was not a
constituent. She said that artillery might have been brought in from
off base for burial. What? I made a FOIA request for any documents
which would support this such as shipping manifests, etc. No response
since July. Why would they not just bury the artillery at the other
fort? Was Fort Sheridan some special dumping ground for unused
artillery? No, I recall that one of the environmental assessments
states that nothing was brought in to Fort Sheridan for disposal.
Well, I must have struck a nerve with the Army because when I requested
new data sheets for the artillery based on their newfound contention of
the dates identifying the types of chemicals, I was charged for the
first time for a FOIA request. I appealed through Congressman Porters
office and was told by Fort McCoy that I do not qualify for a fee waiver
because I am providing false and misleading information to the public.
After I immediately challenged this in an administrative hearing
request, they changed the reason I did not qualify for a fee waiver
because I did not "substantially add to the public understanding of
government operations through my website" on this matter.
Well I also argued to no effect that this information should be provided
to the EPA for the PA and SI and I would be entitled to view this data
at the public repository as in all BRAC matters.
I am asking that each of you write me a letter which I can forward with
my next FOIA request stating that I am keeping you up to date on these
matters and that I am substantially adding to your knowledge of
government operations. I also ask any of you who may be attorneys or
who know any attorneys who would be interested in helping me get fee
waivers to several other relevant documents I would like to request for
help. Otherwise I may not request them as this whole project has taken
a mighty toll on my time and money. I am already out about $600 and
several hundred hours conducting research, web development,
independently sending in water samples for testing, and writing to
legislators. I am not asking for reimbursement as this is very
important to me, but I sure could use those letters.