Archive for Friday, October 8, 1999


October 8, 1999


— It's taken five years, but one unit at the old Sunflower Army Ammunitions Plant has been cleaned, officials say.

One down, at least 53 to go.

With 1,770 tons of soil removed, 98,400 gallons of surface water drained, and a few other odds and ends disposed of, officials say they've cleaned up one hazardous waste site at the mothballed Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.

It's taken five years.

The site, which clean-up technicians call Solid Waste Management Unit No. 23, is roughly a 16-acre tract in the western portion of the 9,065-acre reserve.

"All the actual work has been completed, and now we're going through the formal procedures ... for final closure," said Mark Heideman, a spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

For years, explosive wastes were taken to Unit No. 23 for burning and disposal, either because they were faulty or did not meet Army specifications. The burn site is one of 54 sites at the former ammunition plant known to be contaminated with hazardous wastes.

KDHE officials said the site has been handled differently than other Sunflower waste sites because it was a licensed hazardous waste disposal facility. Hence, it must meet standards of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) before it can be declared a successful cleanup.

Since the plant was idled in 1993, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been responsible for managing the property. The Corps, in turn, hired a private contractor to clean up the contaminated sites.

State and federal officials have said the Army is still responsible for the cleanup, even though efforts are under way to transfer the Sunflower site to the Oz Entertainment Co., which wants to build a theme park and resort there in exchange for taking over cleanup responsibility.

"This has been ongoing, independent of the Oz effort," Heideman said.

According to KDHE, the disposal site was used for destruction of waste nitroguanidine, guanidine nitrate, C-4 explosives, waste nitrocotton, primers and blasting caps, black ball powder, contaminated materials and various other explosives and propellants.

The materials were put in steel pans 10 feet long, 3 feet wide and four inches deep. The burning process involved loading the pans with explosive wastes, which were then ignited with a starter charge fired by a remote detonator.

Cleaning the site involved removing 24 metal pans and some railroad ties, draining about 98,400 gallons of surface water, and excavating about 1,770 tons of soil.

In July, samples from the remaining topsoil were sent to KDHE labs for testing. Results of those tests showed all the samples met state health and safety standards.

Officials now propose to grade the area to match the surrounding landscape and backfill the excavated areas with about six inches of topsoil.

KDHE is accepting written comments on the proposed closure through Nov. 15. No public hearing has been scheduled, but KDHE said one could take place if the written comments show there is enough interest.

Comments can be mailed to the KDHE Bureau of Waste Management, Forbes Field, Building 740, Topeka, Kan., 66620-0001.

-- Peter Hancock's phone message number is 832-7144. His e-mail address is

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