Long-awaited soil cleanup begins on BOMARC site

Tainted ground is sent to Utah

By:Scott Morgan
   McGUIRE AFB — Forty-two years and two months after a fire destroyed an Air Force missile shelter, military and civilian crews are cleaning out the contaminated soil.
   On June 7, 1960, a fire demolished BOMARC Missile Shelter 204 and cracked the shell of the 46-foot nuclear warhead within.
   When the fire was out, 7 acres of ground were contaminated by plutonium-239.
   Immediately afterward, the ground was sealed in concrete, where it has remained unused and dormant for four decades.
   Last month, Air Force, Army and civilian crews began the long-awaited, $9.6 million remediation efforts, first announced in January, which ultimately will shuttle the contaminated ground to a permanent storage facility in Toole County, Utah.
   Lt. Diane Weed, public information officer at McGuire, said cleanup crews so far have shipped nearly 1,300 cubic yards of material (roughly 10 percent of the total amount to be removed) to Utah.
   Officials from all sides have stated there is little to no risk of contamination.
   Cleanup was slow going in the beginning, Lt. Weed said. The concrete casing set over the contaminated soil was much thicker than anyone had anticipated, she said.
   In addition, the recent high temperatures caused a few "heat stress" incidents, in which workers in white contamination suits have been slowed by exhaustion.
   But now that the few minor bugs have been worked out, Lt. Weed said, everything "is a matter of routine."
   So far, she said, Shelter 204, as well as the other shelters of the long-defunct BOMARC program, have been demolished.
   The cleanup involves transporting contaminated material in sealed metal containers from McGuire, through Lakehurst Naval Air Station, and along national highway routes designated as transport lines by the Department of Defense.
   Despite early delays, Lt. Weed said the cleanup is "pretty typical" and moving along at a good clip. Having achieved the first two goals (shelter demolition and removal of the concrete casing), the lieutenant said the cleanup is on target to finish by year’s end.