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Army will begin search for hazardous vapors near Fort Gillem

Vapor intrusion study commences this summer

FOREST PARK — The Army will be moving silently through neighborhoods around the old Fort Gillem site over the next year and a half to track an equally silent threat, a federal government official told Forest Park leaders Monday.

Owen Nuttall, site manager and environmental coordinator for the Base Relocation and Closure Commission, told city leaders the Army is about to begin conducting a vapor intrusion study along the fort’s northern and southern borders. The study will determine whether vapors generated by ground contaminants at the former base are seeping into nearby homes.

The study is being conducted at the request of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Nuttall. The Army is paying for the removal of soil that was contaminated by fuel run-offs and items that were buried after World War II.

“What we’re trying to do is make sure there are no health risks with the groundwater contamination coming off of the installation,” said Nuttall. “We’re working with the Georgia EPD — the Environmental Protection Division — and EPA, and the Army Corps of Engineers out of Savannah are going to be the ones that will be running the tests.”

Nuttall said the study will likely begin in the early part of the summer and will include three phases. Samples taken during summertime temperatures in the first phase. The second phase will be the collection of samples during the winter months. The final phase will be the collection of samples from any homes that were missed during the first two phases.

Nuttall said Army officials will be going “door-to-door” to let residents know the tests will be taking place. Fact sheets will be sent out to the community and forums will be held to explain the process.

The samples will be taken with a small canister that will be placed on a property for three days, Nuttall said.

Although there has been ground contamination, Nuttall said it’s not clear that hazardous vapors are present as well. A vapor intrusion study conducted in 2003 showed there were no hazardous chemicals around the base, he said.

However, some residents were concerned that a new study was only being done just before the city closed on the purchase of hundreds of acres of property at the old fort.

“Why wasn’t this done five years ago when the Army was dangling the land in front of us like a carrot?” Diane Lunsford asked.

Nuttall said the Army does not have a regular schedule for conducting such studies and that the one that is about to be done is tied to the impending purchase.

“With the property being transferred, EPA asked us to do it again,” he said.