The 13,164-acre Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station site is located in Havelock, North Carolina, and includes an active U.S. Marine Corps installation – Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point. It opened in 1942. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed the site on the Superfund program’s National Priorities List (NPL) in 1994 because of contaminated groundwater, soil, sediment and surface water resulting from the installation’s operations.
History of Contamination
Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Cherry Point is surrounded by water on three sides: Slocum Creek on the west, Hancock Creek on the east, and the Neuse River on the north (see map).
Commissioned in 1942, the mission at MCAS Cherry Point is to maintain and operate support facilities, services, and material of the 2nd Marine Aircraft Wing, or units thereof, and other activities and units as designated by the Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, in coordination with the Chief of Naval Operations.
Past waste disposal and storage practices at the station have resulted in environmental contamination at multiple sites. Environmental investigations at MCAS Cherry Point are conducted under the Installation Restoration Program (IRP) and were formally conducted under the Department of Navy Assessment and Control of Installation Pollutants (NACIP) Program. Currently, 32 IRP sites are being investigated at the station; they are divided into 12 Operable Units (OUs). MCAS personnel have taken numerous actions to clean up and control the areas of contamination on the station and to reduce contaminant migration. A detailed discussion of I= data and actions are provided in the station’s IRP documents maintained at the station library and the Havelock Public Library.
Sites and Status
Investigations and cleanup activities have focused on nine areas. EPA refers to these areas as operable units (OUs). The OUs cover large portions of the site and contain one or more specific areas of contamination. The following are the relevant sites and detailed descriptions from the EPA’s Superfund site, verbatim:
OU-1: OU-1 cleanup actions include running a ground treatment system and an air sparging/soil vapor extraction (AS/SVE) system for Site 16. Site 16 is a disposal site that contains petroleum products. In 2005, the AS/SVE system was shut down because it was not achieving remedial action objectives and the system was decommissioned, including well abandonment, in 2011. EPA issued a long-term remedy of No Further Action for Sites 14, 15, 17, 18 and 40 in 2010 and a long-term remedy of No Further Action for Site 83 in 2012. A Draft Proposed Plan for site 16 was submitted in 2012. EPA issued a long-term remedy in 2016.
The pump-and-treat system was shut down in 2005 because of decreasing efficiency and interference with ongoing treatability studies. Decommissioning of the system’s components was completed in 2014. Two pilot studies were completed in 2014 to investigate potential alternate groundwater treatment options to address the OU-1 Central Groundwater Plume. The purpose of these pilot studies were to gather information to aid in the selection of potential remedies to address the plume. The pilot studies were successful.
OU-2: In 1998, the Navy put in a soil vapor extraction system to address VOC-contaminated soil. The system ran until the soil met cleanup goals in 2003. While the cleanup goals have been met, the Navy continues to monitor groundwater, surface water and sediment from both Turkey Gut and Slocum Creek. Based on soil sampling results, EPA updated the long-term remedy for OU-2 in 2011 describing its plan for addressing a contaminated soil area known as Hot Spot 2. The Navy carried out the plan in 2012, which included putting a cover over the contaminated soil. Land use restrictions limit site land uses to industrial uses and do not allow groundwater use. Fencing and warning signs control access to the site.
OU-3: The Navy installed an air sparging system in 2000, at Site 7, in OU-3 (Old Incinerator Area). The system addresses contaminated soil. The Navy began OU-3 groundwater monitoring in 2002. The Navy shut the system down in 2003, after meeting cleanup goals. The Navy stopped the monitoring in 2011, after groundwater samples met performance standards for four sampling events in a row.
OU-4: The Navy began using monitored natural attenuation of groundwater at OU-4 in 2006. Restrictions do not allow the withdrawal and future use of groundwater, except for monitoring, from the upper-level aquifer within OU-4. The Navy has included these restrictions in its master planning process. It also updated the installation’s environmental geographic information system. The Navy will continue long-term groundwater monitoring until contaminants do not exceed the performance standards in the OU-4 long-term remedy.
OU-5: The Navy is using monitored natural attenuation of groundwater at OU-5, along with land use controls. Restrictions do not allow groundwater use, except for monitoring. Groundwater monitoring is ongoing. The Navy has included the restrictions in its master planning process. It also updated the installation’s environmental geographic information system. The Navy stopped the monitoring in 2011, after groundwater samples met performance standards for four sampling events in a row. All site activities have been completed and the land use controls were removed in 2012.
OU-6: In 2007, the Navy excavated a tar-like layer in soils beneath the former location of Burn Pit E, a potential source of groundwater contamination. The Navy is using monitored natural attenuation to address groundwater contamination. Groundwater monitoring began in 2007 and was completed in 2008.
OU-13: The long-term remedy for OU-13 includes monitored natural attenuation of groundwater and land use controls. The Navy began groundwater monitoring in 2006. Results indicate that overall VOC concentrations in the groundwater have decreased. Restrictions in place for OU-13 do not allow for groundwater use, except for monitoring. The Navy has included the restrictions in its master planning process. It also updated the installation’s environmental GIS. The Navy stopped the monitoring in 2012 after groundwater samples met performance standards, for four sampling events in a row. All site activities have been completed and the land use controls were removed in 2013.
OU-14: OU-14 includes Site 90, an area of groundwater contaminated with VOCs. Located in the west-central portion of the MCAS Cherry Point flight line complex, Site 90 consists of a broad expanse of concrete tarmac, buildings, taxiways and some grassy areas adjacent to Runway 14L. The MCAS Cherry Point Underground Storage Tank Program manages and investigates all releases from pipelines and underground and aboveground storage tanks. The long-term remedy includes long-term monitoring with a land use control. Indoor air and vapor intrusion issues will be evaluated, if necessary, if new buildings are planned within the land use control’s designated area. Long-term monitoring is ongoing and will continue until groundwater contaminants do not exceed the performance standards defined in the OU-14 long-term remedy.
OU-15: EPA issued a long-term remedy for OU-15 of No Further Action because previous investigations found no threats to people or the environment.
EPA has conducted several Five-Year Reviews of the site’s remedy. These reviews ensure that the remedies put in place protect public health and the environment, and function as intended by site decision documents. The most recent review, completed in 2013, concluded that response actions at OU-1, OU-2, OU-3, OU-4, OU-5, OU-6 and OU-13 are in accordance with the remedies selected by EPA and that the remedies continue to be protective of human health and the environment in the short term. Protectiveness of the remedy for OU-1 requires additional cleanup activities. The next Five-Year Review is due in 2018.
Contaminants of Concern
Contaminants of concern within soil includes VOCs, semi‐volatile organic compounds (SVOCs), pesticides, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and inorganic constituents. In groundwater, the most‐prevalent VOCs are trichloroethene (TCE), vinyl chloride (VC), 1,2‐dichloroethene (DCE), 1,1‐dichloroethane (DCA), and 1,1‐DCE.
Agent Orange at Cherry Point?
Several veterans have been successful in establishing service-connections to Agent Orange exposures at Cherry Point for associated diseases. In the following example from a filing in March 2016, the VA findings of fact indicated that the veteran in question:
- Was exposed to Agent Orange in service in the course of duties as a chemical technician at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station.
- Developed Parkinson’s disease subsequent to service.
Here’s the direct link to that ruling: https://www.va.gov/vetapp16/Files2/1608144.txt
This particular finding goes further to show that AO was at Cherry Point:
Associated with the record in April 2015 is a report of contaminants found at the Cherry Point MCAS. This reported, by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command (NAVFAC), titled, Final – Tier II Sampling and Analysis Plan – Groundwater Treatment Zero-Valent Iron Permeable Reactive Barrier Pilot Study, Operable Unit I, Marine Corps Air Station, Cherry Point, North Carolina, goes into extensive detail as to the vast array of contaminants, including herbicide agents, found at the site. In particular, attached Table 3-1 provides an extensive list of “Non-TCL Pesticides, Herbicides, and Insecticides” stored at “Site 83, Building 96, Former Pesticide Mixing Area.”
You can read the report in it’s entirety here:
Recent Concerns About PFAS
In 2018, two private groundwater wells in Atlantic, an unincorporated area in Carteret County with a population of less than 600, tested positive for elevated levels of PFAS, prompting the Navy to begin providing bottled water to residents in the area. Cherry Point is yet another location for high levels of PFAS contamination from the use of aqueous film-forming foams in firefighting and practices beginning in the 1970s.
Those exposed to PFAS and PFOS should be on the lookout for adverse health impacts such as low birth weight, accelerated puberty, cancer and liver, immune and thyroid effects from exposure, according to the EPA. Cherry Point is one of six sites identified in North Carolina for PFAS contamination so far. These include: Fort Bragg, Cherry Point, Charlotte Air National Guard Base, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and Stanly County Airport.
In Atlantic, the Navy is only in the first stages of what could be a years-long investigation and cleanup, particularly if the source is found on the base. The Navy has held three public hearings and offered free well testing through the beginning of March. No more public testing of wells is scheduled at this point. (N&O)
The MCAS Cherry Point RAB meets several times per year, when new information is available or as needed to keep members informed about the current progress of the cleanup program.
NAVFAC Mid Atlantic Public Affairs Office
9742 Maryland Avenue
Norfolk, Virginia 23511-3095
(757) 445-8732, ext. 3096
Remedial Project Manager:
- Military to check for water contamination at 664 sites, including Camp Lejeune, Cherry Point
- 1996 ATSDR Public Health Assessment
- EPA Superfund Site Profile – Cherry Point
- Contaminated drinking water found outside an NC military base. It could be just the start.
- 2016 Department of Environmental Quality Report – Cherry Point
- Example of a Successful VA Filing for Parkinson’s Disease resulting from various chemical and Agent Orange exposures at Cherry Point
- The List of Military Sites With Suspected ‘Forever Chemicals’ Contamination Has Grown
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