Watch Out While Hiking Here – You Might Step On An Explosive
Located in Karnack, Texas, the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant (LHAAP) was a World War II-era factory that produced TNT and various munitions. The plant consisted of four-hundred and fifty-one buildings, which were connected by rails across 8,493 acres of land. On this land, they also operated their own power plants and water treatment facilities. The plants were constructed in 1942, and would operate until 1997, manufacturing TNT, rocket motors, and numerous other pyrotechnics.
Following the December 7 attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States Army saw great importance in hurrying to find a location to expand their munitions production. The Monsanto Chemical Company chose this section of land, and operated under government contract to produce 393,000,000 pounds of TNT throughout World War II.
In 1952, the plant operated under contract to build solid-fuel rocket motors. The plant was converted to produce them into the early 1970s. The plant’s mission expanded again during the Korean War, when it produced pyrotechnic ammunition and rocket motors. The plant’s liquid-fuel facility was converted into a solid-fuel rocket motor plant by the Thiokol Corporation, a company that had previously operated at Redstone Arsenal. The company was eventually acquired by Morton Thiokol, Inc.
Under operation of Thiokol, on December 8, 1987 the plant signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. After this, the Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant would be used to destroy Pershing 1-A and Pershing II missiles, which were created by Thiokol. The United States and the Soviet Union were both officially entered into the INF treaty on June 1, 1988. It was then that President Ronald Reagan met Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, and exchanged agreements at the Moscow Summit. The treaty stated that over the next three years, all U.S. and Soviet ground-launched, intermediate-range missile systems would be destroyed.
It was agreed that both the United States and the Soviets would destroy missiles by way of static firing, open burning or launching.
On September 9, 1988, the first Pershing missile was destroyed at the plant. As part of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, this event was the beginning of an end to the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
On July 6, 1989 the last of the Pershing 1-A missiles were destroyed. The destruction was inspected by a 10-member team of Soviet inspectors from a nearby bunker to verify that destruction met nuclear treaty obligations. As the final two rockets fired, for 40 seconds flames shot out the back and vibrated the ground. Once all of the propellant had been consumed, workers crushed, and finally destroyed the last of the motors.
As the last of the army’s 139 Pershing 1-A rockets were destroyed, that still left 382 of the Pershing II rockets still awaiting destruction. Most of these were destroyed by way of static firing. Over the first 13 months, the Americans and Soviets had destroyed nearly half of the entirety of their missiles. Mass destruction of the remaining Pershing II missiles was planned for October of the same year.
On August 30, 1990, the EPA stepped in and designated the area a Superfund site on the National Priorities List, referencing numerous contaminants left behind from the creation and destruction of the many explosives over the years. The EPA cited methylene chloride and trichlorothene in the groundwater, found in some streams flowing into Caddo Lake. Perchlorate was found in the former plant’s groundwater, surface water, and soil, and high levels of lead and mercury were found in streams near Caddo Lake.
The Army started cleaning up the land on October 25, 1996, and to this day, cleanup continues.
In 2000, the property was transferred to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and became the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
The EPA has been investigating whether or not the Army’s cleanup plan is acceptable and should even be allowed to proceed. The EPA’s decision to approve the plan has been contested by numerous environmental groups. The Caddo Lake Institute, an organization advocating for Caddo Lake, held a hearing to address the arguments regarding cleanup of the plant’s groundwater. Environmental activists are not satisfied with the army’s cleanup efforts. The Caddo Lake Institute has been raising concerns about hazardous metals in the groundwater for some time now.
So far an estimated $100 million has been spent on cleanup efforts. Numerous groups feel that a lot of this money could have been spent in much wiser ways, and could have made a much larger impact on cleaning up the land. It’s unclear how long the standoff between the Army and EPA will last.
As cleanup efforts still continue, approximately 7,000 acres of the land have been deemed suitable for visitors, and on September 26, 2009, the land was opened for visiting to the public. If you visit the area today, you will even see signs that warn you of stray explosives you may stumble upon when out on a hike in the woods.
How cute, they want us to be careful so we don’t step on their weapons. They care.
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