Fort Jackson Pollution Questions Still Unresolved

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- Neighbors of Fort Jackson fired questions at Army officials Thursday night about pollution near their homes, but they left a public meeting still not knowing if contamination from the fort is a threat to the water they drink.

While the fort doesn't believe there's anything to worry about, Army officials said they won't know for sure until federal contractors test private wells for the presence of a toxic pollutant found near Leesburg Road at the fort's southern edge. Test results aren't expected until January.

"It really depends on what we find, if we find anything in the wells,'' said Col. Michael Graese in response to questions about how the Army would help residents if high levels are detected.

The pollutant, RDX, can cause seizures and vomiting in people who consume large quantities in drinking water. Base officials said last week they found small amounts of RDX in groundwater near a hand grenade range.

So far, the Army says none of the RDX levels at Fort Jackson exceed a federal health safety standard. But not knowing if high levels have spread off site continues to concern people like Carol Roberts, who lives about two miles from Fort Jackson.

"Everything is still so up in the air right now until after the testing is done; it's kind of a wait and see type of a situation," Roberts said after the meeting. "I'm still a little nervous about it."

Roberts, like some others who attended the session at the fort, said she's worried about how the RDX pollution from Fort Jackson might eventually affect her private water supply. RDX, which may have been used in hand grenades since the 1940s, still is a key component in the approximately 100,000 grenades thrown by soldiers each year.

"What are the assurances you can potentially give us" about possible pollution in five or 10 years?, she asked during the meeting. "Are we just going to ride this wave until it crashes into the shore? Or are we going to jump ship?"

Roberts and Ramona Engom said they are considering hiring private companies to test their water so they can compare results to what the Army finds. Engom, who lives with her husband along Leesburg Road, said she doesn't trust the government.

Others at the meeting wanted to know how the Army would react if pollution levels are high in private wells. The military could provide water, officials said, but they declined to speculate beyond that.

It's unclear how long the contamination has existed at Fort Jackson.

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