Donaldson Air Force Base in Greenville, South Carolina, was closed in 1963. The property was transferred to the City and County of Greenville, South Carolina in 1964. It is currently owned 50/50 by the city and county, with some private industrial ownership of the peripheral areas. Now known as the South Carolina Technology and Aviation Center (SCTAC), the 2,600-acre industrial park that is home to various high-profile companies such as Lockheed Martin, Michelin, IBM, 3M, and others. It is one of six bases in the state that continue to be a problem for toxic military contamination and potential exposure impacts.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Defense’s Environmental Restoration Program lists 61 current or former military installations in South Carolina that have been contaminated with toxins. While several have been remediated, six are still designated “high risk”, including Donaldson AFB. In fact, Donaldson has more “high risk” locations on its base than any of the others in its related area, including three that are considered “still active”. According to Billy Birdwell, senior public affairs specialist for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the contamination at Donaldson stems from “small dump sites” used during World War II.
“We didn’t have environmental science back then, so we just threw these materials into the ground and covered them with dirt.”
Trace amounts of hazardous, toxic, and radioactive materials remain present in the groundwater, soil, surface water, and sediment near the contaminated sites at Donaldson. The most serious site on the former base property is the landfill, where, like many other bases, indiscriminate dumping of toxic chemicals took place during a time where awareness was low. Various chemicals have been found in the ground including chromium, mercury, cadmium, the carcinogenic cleaning agent trichloroethylene (TCE), and tetrachloroethylene (PCE), a cancer-causing solvent once used widely in the textile industry. There are also indications that these chemicals, including elements from RDX, may be leaching into the nearby acquifer affecting water supplies.
According to a recent ProPublica report, the Donaldson dump site poses a risk to visitors and workers who might be exposed to contaminated soil in the industrial park. It also said anyone wading in nearby streams could be exposed to particles in the water or sediment. Residents of the area also could be exposed through consumption of groundwater. It also indicates that there are 112 underground storage tanks on the property and those tanks are believed to contain RDX for making bombs for the military.
The federal government has already spent $21.4 million on environmental monitoring and remediation efforts, with an additional $13.9 million remaining to completely remediate Donaldson. The government anticipates completion by 2031. Monitoring will be extended until 2034.
Relevant Links & Research:
- FUDS Document –https://www.sac.usace.army.mil/Portals/43/docs/congressionalvisits/2017/civilprojects/FUDS%20Donaldson%20AFB.pdf
- ProPublica Data Set – https://projects.propublica.org/bombs/installation/SC49799F4946009799
- Greenville Online Article – https://www.greenvilleonline.com/story/news/local/south-carolina/2017/12/27/pollution-donaldson-airfields-wwii-era-dumping-stillfb-home-high-risk-military-era-pollutants-study/968890001/
- GAO Office Report on SC Sites – https://www.gao.gov/gao-01-1012sp/zSC.html
- WYFF4 Report – https://www.wyff4.com/article/toxic-chemical-contaminating-water-and-soil-in-greenville-county-report-says/14466467
- Fuds Inventory – SC – https://www.usace.army.mil/Portals/2/docs/Environmental/FUDS/FUDS_Inventory/FUDS_Inventory_SouthCarolina.pdf