Gov. Mitt Romney announced Thursday that the use of so-called environmentally safe bullets in military training exercises at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod has been suspended after traces of metal were found in the groundwater.
Seven years ago, military officials began using the new, "safe bullets" because they thought they wouldn't contaminate an aquifer beneath the base that supplies upper Cape Cod with drinking water. The bullets were made of nylon and tungsten, a metal that supposedly didn't dissolve into the ground like lead.
But Romney said Thursday that preliminary data from field tests at the base indicate tungsten has leeched into the soil there. He said there is no particular reason for concern and emphasized that there was no evidence tungsten is in the public drinking water.
"I have no problem going to the Cape tomorrow and having a tall glass of water," Romney said at a Statehouse news conference.
Romney said he's ordered tests to make sure the tungsten hasn't reached the public drinking water, and said the National Guard, federal and state regulators and local community leaders would work together to further monitor and study tungsten.
Tungsten-nylon bullets replaced by plastic ones
Brig. Gen. Oliver J. Mason, adjutant general of the Massachusetts National Guard, said the tungsten-nylon bullets would be temporarily replaced with plastic ones where appropriate.
Camp Edwards is part of the Massachusetts Military Reservation, which covers 30 square miles and includes four towns on upper Cape Cod: Bourne, Sandwich, Falmouth and Mashpee. It's been a major training center for troops for decades, up to the current war in Iraq.
In 1997, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency called a cease fire at Camp Edwards and ordered a clean up of lead buried in and around the berms at base shooting ranges. Lead was later found 19 feet underground moving toward the aquifer, though it never reached it.
The tungsten bullets were supposed to remove the pollution threat. Tungsten has the highest melting point of any metal, and was listed in the 2002-2003 Handbook of Chemistry and Physics as incapable of being dissolved in water. The thought was the bullet would stay put.
In 1999, Camp Edwards received its first rounds of the tungsten-nylon bullets for its small arms shooting ranges, and has been firing about 200,000 rounds per year. But the conventional wisdom about tungsten was challenged in 2002 by lab tests at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., which found that tungsten was not insoluble and could travel through soil under certain conditions.
The Army began conducting the first-ever field tests on how tungsten moves through the ground at Camp Edwards in July. That study is due to be completed in September.
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