Texas Environmental Almanac


Military Toxic Sites in Texas


With the end of the Cold War, the nation and the state of Texas are grappling with the legacy of environmental contamination at military installations, which use large amount of hazardous materials and contain numerous polluted sites.

In the early 1980s, the Department of Defense (DOD) began the Defense Environmental Restoration Program (DERP) with the objective of cleaning up the contaminated sites at these bases. During that period, a similar program was also initiated by the Department of Energy. A 1994 Department of Defense report indicates that there are 19,694 potentially contaminated sites at 1,722 Department of Defense installations in the United States.(1) These installations and sites, which are included in the Defense Environmental Restoration Program, follow the regulations set by the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act of 1986 (SARA) and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). (See Waste section for discussion of SARA and CERCLA.) Ninety-four of these installations are listed on the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) National Priorities List (NPL) for cleanup due to the severity of the public health and environmental hazards posed by these sites.(2)

The allocated budget for the cleanup of these installations for fiscal year 1994 is approximately $2 billion;(3) the ultimate cost for cleanup has been projected to reach $100 to $200 billion.(4) This amount covers cleanup only at domestic installations; cleanup costs at foreign Department of Defense bases and Department of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons plants are not included. At Department of Energy facilities, the estimated costs of cleanup of the contamination of radioactive and hazardous materials exceeds $200 billion.(5)

Because of the national political clout of Texas politicians such as President Lyndon Baines Johnson and Speaker of the House Jim Wright, for more than 50 years Texas garnered a large share of military bases and defense-related contracts. However, as a result of a reduction in federal expenditures, the state of Texas is now faced with addressing the effects of defense downsizing, which includes overseeing the cleanup of contamination at military facilities.(6)

There are 88 Department of Defense installations under the Defense Environmental Restoration Program in Texas. Of the 24 classified as "major" installations, four are undergoing closure or realignment. According to the Department of Defense, there are 1,010 potentially contaminated sites at military installations in Texas.(7) Furthermore, there are 61 sites at 25 Formerly Used Defense Sites, or FUDS, in Texas.(8) FUDS are defined as "...real property that formerly was owned by, leased to, used by, or otherwise under operational control of Department of Defense."(9) The Defense Environmental Cleanup Program 1994 annual report lists for the first time the number and status of cleanup at FUDS.

Environmental hazards are related to the operations taking place at each installation. For example, the primary mission of the Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant in Bowie County is to load, assemble and pack ammunition items. The solid waste generated at this installation thus includes contaminants from explosive residues, toxic metals and organic chemicals.(10) The Naval Air Station in Kleberg County serves as a naval training facility and provides aviation services. Waste generated from the maintenance of aircraft at this site include chlorinated waste solvents, waste oils, lead acid batteries and PCB contaminated materials.(11) At Kelly Air Force Base in Bexar County, the environmental contamination is due to the maintenance and repair of military aircraft, leaks and spills from the fuel distribution and storage systems and operation of the industrial wastewater treatment system. An initial study of Kelly found both on-site and off-site groundwater to be contaminated by heavy metals and organic chemicals including halogenated and nonhalogenated solvents, JP-4 jet fuel, oil, PCBs and pesticides.(12)

Past disposal practices at many military bases included discharging contaminated wastewater to unlined settling pits, burying waste in landfills and burning waste in fire training exercises. In 1989, Kelly Air Force Base was issued a Texas Water Commission order for "violations of state solid waste regulations including failure to close a RCRA regulated unit with an approved closure plan, failure to comply with 90 day accumulation time requirements, failure to install an adequate RCRA groundwater system and for managing its solid waste in such a manner as to result in the discharge of solid waste to State waters."(13)

The extent of contamination at federal facilities in Texas has led to the inclusion of some of these installations on the EPA's National Priority List (the Superfund list). Contaminated sites are on the National Priority List because they pose serious environmental or health risks, as measured by the EPA's Hazard Ranking System (HRS). Currently, three Texas Department of Defense installations and one Department of Energy facility are on the Superfund list. The Department of Defense facilities are the Air Force Plant #4 (General Dynamics) in Tarrant County, the Lone Star Ammunition Plant in Bowie County and the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant in Harrison County. The Department of Energy facility is the Panhandle's Pantex Plant in Carson County.

In June 1994, the Pantex Plant became the most recent federal facility to be included on the Superfund list. Beginning in the early 1950s, the installation's principal mission was the assembly of nuclear weapons, which utilized large quantities of uranium, plutonium and tritium, as well as other non-radioactive but hazardous chemicals.(14) Past and present waste practices at Pantex include burial of waste in unlined fillers, discharging plant wastewater into on-site surface waters and burning of chemical waste in unlined pits.(15) Depleted uranium has been found in soil near Pantex firing sites.(16) Furthermore, solvents, gasoline components and high-explosive contamination have been found in the area above the Ogallala Aquifer, a large underground water reservoir that spans six states.(17)

The estimated cost of cleanup for the Department of Defense sites in Texas is $600 million.(18) Under a cooperative agreement with the Department of Defense, the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission received about $1.4 million to oversee the cleanup of active sites at these installations for fiscal year 1994.(19) In fiscal year 1994, the most current year for which data is available, there were 721 sites at Department of Defense facilities at which studies had been completed, 44 sites at which cleanup was underway and 57 sites at which cleanup was completed.(20)

The legacy of environmental contamination at military installations presents a major challenge to the Department of Defense and environmental regulators. Though a more open and environmentally-sound approach is being adopted by the Pentagon, the allocation of appropriate resources is needed to guarantee proper cleanup, restoration and compliance. Continued monitoring by citizens groups is also needed to assure that pollution prevention and conservation measures are adopted and the environmental and public health threats of existing military toxic sites are properly abated.

Air Force Plant #4 (General Dynamics), Tarrant County1990Solvents, paint residues, spent process chemicals, PCBs, waste oils and fuels, heavy metals, VOCs, cyanide.
Lone Star Army Ammunition Plant, Bowie County1987Munitions-related waste, heavy metals, petroleum/oil/lubricants.
Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant, Karnack County1990Heavy metals, VOCs, munitions-related waste, petroleum/oil/lubricants.
Pantex Plant, Carson County1994Organic solvents, heavy metals, uranium.
Source: Information compiled from Department of Defense, Defense Environmental Cleanup Program: Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 1993, B-3-25 (Washington, DC: Defense Technical Information Center, March 31, 1994), 45.



  1. Department of Defense, Defense Environmental Cleanup Program: Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 1993 (Washington, DC: Defense Technical Information Center, March 31, 1994), 45.

  2. Michael Renner, "Military Mop-Up" (Washington, DC: World Watch), Worldwatch Institute, Vol. 7 No. 5, September/October 1994, 27.

  3. Ibid, 27.

  4. Department of Defense Inspector General's Office cited in Lenny Siegel, Gary Cohen and Ben Goldman, The U.S. Military's Toxic Legacy: America's Worst Environmental Enemy (Boston: National Toxic Campaign Fund, 1991), v.

  5. Douglas Pasternak with Peter Cary, "Special Report: A $200 billion scandal at America's bomb factories," U.S. News & World Report (Vol. 113 No. 23), December 14, 1992, 34.

  6. Defense-related spending for manufacturing, research and services in Texas peaked in 1986 at $10.9 billion. Procurement dollars are expected to drop by 23 percent between 1990 and 1995. Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Forces of Change, Volume II, Part 2 (Austin: Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, November, 1993), 76-77.

  7. Department of Defense, Defense Environmental Cleanup Program: Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 1993, B-3-25. A military installation can have (and usually does have) more than one contaminated site.

  8. Ibid, B-3-25.

  9. Ibid, 45.

  10. Texas Water Commission, Division of Budget and Planning, "Application Package for the Department of Defense: Defense Environmental Restoration Program" July 1993, 11-12.

  11. Ibid, 23.

  12. Ibid, 39-40.

  13. Ibid, 40.

  14. Dana Coyle, et al, Deadly Defense: Military Radioactive Landfills (New York: Radioactive Waste Campaign, 1988), 80.

  15. Environmental Protection Agency Region 6, Progress at Superfund Sites in Texas (Dallas: EPA, Region 6, Winter 1993/1994), 20.

  16. Ibid.

  17. Jim McBride, "EPA places Pantex on priorities list despite efforts by Governor Richards," Texas Environmental News (Vol. 4, No. 7), July 1994, 3.

  18. Allen Posnick, Industrial and Hazardous Waste Division, Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission, phone interview with Texas Center for Policy Studies, September 1994.

  19. Texas Water Commission, "Federal Facility Restoration Program through the Department of Defense DSMOA/CA: FY 94-95 Workplan," August 1993, 3.

  20. Department of Defense, Defense Environmental Cleanup Program: Annual Report to Congress for Fiscal Year 1993, B-3-25.

Texas Environmental Almanac, Environmental Focus: Military Toxic Sites in Texas

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