ECBC Supports Yuma Proving Ground Study

CBARR unit provides monitoring, laboratory services for suspected contamination areas.

CCDC Chemical Biological Center Public Affairs | March 17th, 2016

ECBC Supports Yuma Proving Ground Study

Military equipment, old munitions and other debris left behind from decades of chemical weapons testing in a section of Yuma Proving Ground will be examined by CBARR to help determine future cleanup efforts.

A team from the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center (ECBC) has been deployed to the Sonoran Desert for project supporting the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville Center and U.S. Army Yuma Proving Ground (YPG).

The Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) team from ECBC is providing chemical agent air monitoring and chemical warfare materiel (CWM) laboratory testing services for a remedial investigation/feasibility study (RI/FS) on two test fields, the West Environmental Test Area (YPG-31) and Former Waste Disposal Area (YPG-32), which the Huntsville Center and YPG have earmarked for investigation.

YPG is an Army facility in southwestern Arizona, just north of the city of Yuma, which was established in 1943. One of the largest military installations in the world, YPG is used extensively by the Army, other services and friendly foreign nations for the testing of munitions and a wide variety of ground and air weapon systems on the proving ground’s 1,300 square-mile assortment of ranges.

“Historically, the [Yuma] sites were used to test the fate of chemical agents in high temperatures”
John Ditillo, CBARR project manager

“Historically, the sites were used to test the fate of chemical agents in high temperatures,” said John Ditillo, CBARR project manager. “For example, they would sit a pallet of munitions in the hot sun for the summer, where it can get upwards of 120 degrees; then, test to see if the chemical agent inside the munitions changed or if the containers degraded.”

The two test fields, closed off by barbed-wire fencing, are suspected to be contaminated with a host of chemicals previously used in defense programs, including mustard agents, nerve agent and phosgene. Contaminated soil, containers, contaminated scrap metals, CWM munitions, protective personnel equipment, and equipment that may have been used decades ago reportedly remain on the premises. The area has older structures that may need to be demolished, and structures that have already collapsed, but neither can be removed until investigative work has been performed to assess contamination.

ECBC’s team will be supporting the Huntsville Center, which is managing the project. Huntsville Center uses ECBC’s CBARR unit for all of its cleanup projects at CWM sites where chemical weapons may have been used, Ditillo said.

ECBC’s CBARR unit will conduct CWM analytical tests on soil borings samples collected by the Huntsville Center contractor, Parsons Engineering, using a push rig to access cores of soil and samples from trenches, in order to provide a cross section of contaminates in representative trenches. Parsons Engineering is doing the bulk of the work; such as trenching, intrusive excavations, borings, well installation, and collecting the samples for testing.

“The purpose of this project is not to remove the items but to investigate discreet areas and determine what’s there and how much, and what the condition is,” Ditillo said. “This is a first look at the problem and what we can expect.” It will be up to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to decide how to handle what the team discovers, he said.

ECBC will also provide air monitoring performed by Miniature Continuous Air Monitoring Systems™ (MINICAMS™) with confirmation by a Depot Area Air Monitoring System (DAAMS) to ensure worker safety. A crew of three chemical engineering technicians and two chemists, on one-month rotations, will be staffing the project. They’re outfitted with custom air monitoring vehicles, a mobile laboratory, support vehicles and a generator.

The ECBC team completed a walk-through of the site in its first week at YPG, noting visible landmarks: trenches used to bury items, pits and ground scars.

True to ECBC’s exacting safety measures, the team then embarked on three weeks of onsite safety training, starting with preoperational survey measures and ending with a week of training from the Huntsville Center. ECBC’s CBARR unit also completed what’s called the Huntsville Survey, a weeklong safety check administered by the Huntsville Center as a dry run prior to the preoperational survey, which catches and corrects potential safety concerns.

The team is trying to work with Mother Nature to complete the assignment by the end of May, before desert temps spike.


The U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (CCDC Chemical Biological Center) is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations. The Center has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and for our national defense, with a long and distinguished history of providing the armed forces with quality systems and outstanding customer service. The CCDC Chemical Biological Center is located at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.