Because of the variety of munitions deployment and chemical use occurring on military installations, there is a need to monitor the fauna in the area to note if they are being affected by the presence of these chemicals and their products (e.g., smokes and fumes).

The project goals were (1) to apply biomarkers (physiological, biochemical, and molecular changes in aquatic and terrestrial organisms) as tools to assess and monitor the impacts of defense-associated chemical production and application (e.g., munitions manufacturing, open detonation and open burning, decommissioning and disarming chemical agents, fuel refining and storage, machine degreasing wastes, and chemical byproducts) on sensitive aquatic and terrestrial fauna at selected Department of Defense (DoD) facilities; (2) to establish patterns of biomarker change, via comparative studies of native fauna in contaminated and reference sites, that are useful for demonstrating the existence or nonexistence of ecosystem-level impacts from these materials; and (3) to determine which biomarkers appear to be predictive of decrements in the status of the ecological resources.

Technical Approach

Site selection focused on those munitions-contaminated installations located in strategic proximity to ecologically appropriate reference sites. The contaminated and reference sites were inventoried and the ecological assets elucidated. Suitable measurement endpoints were selected on the basis of the biomarker methods available and on the ecological resources to be monitored. Assessments were made of the exposure and effects from munitions compounds and byproducts. The biomarker profiles of selected wildlife were compared in the contaminated and impacted sites and referenced against the status of the ecological assets. Biomarkers that appeared predictive of ecosystem impacts were identified for future assessments at other DoD facilities. Laboratory studies focusing on selected munitions compounds and their products [e.g., trinitrotoluene (TNT), trinitrobenzene (TNB), dinitrobenzene (DNB), and tetryl (TET)] and other contaminants of ecological concern (e.g., polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heavy metals) will support the verification of field results.


This project developed biomakers to quantify exposures to nitroaromatic munitions compounds and their byproducts, such as 2,4,6-TNT; 1,3,5-TNB; 1,3-DNB; and TET, which are the frequent explosives contaminants found at DoD facilities. For the first time, research toxicity results on TNB demonstrated that the currently acceptable cleanup level for TNB of 0.96 ppm may be raised as much as 600-fold because TNB appears less hazardous than was previously calculated using extrapolated numbers from other similar chemicals. Hence, a smaller number of TNB-contaminated sites might require cleanup, and those that are remediated might not need to be cleaned up as thoroughly as previously required. This new standard should result in considerable cost savings, perhaps 50 percent or more. This new technology has been evaluated in a field study at the SERDP National Environmental Test Sites demonstration site at the Volunteer Army Ammunition Plant, Chattanooga, TN, in collaboration with the scientists from the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD. This project was completed in FY 1997.


The proposed project benefitted the DoD and the public by (1) providing baseline data to assess the ecological impact of munitions activities and (2) providing a quantitative means to document the ecological state of the impacted area and to prove or disprove cause-effect relationships between munitions byproduct contamination and ecological effects.