- What is it?
The Operational Range Assessment (ORA) is the Army’s systematic effort to evaluate whether munitions constituents (MC) from training and testing munitions are migrating from operational ranges to off-range areas at levels that pose an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment. ORA is the Army’s portion of a Department of Defense-wide, proactive initiative to identify and address issues before they cause restrictions to range use or threaten human health and the environment. Army operational ranges are vital to conduct a variety of training scenarios or to test weapons systems. ORA directly supports Army Readiness by keeping operational ranges open and available.
The Army has operational ranges in over 400 different locations around the U.S. and its territories. While some ranges occupy less than one acre, other ranges are very large covering thousands of acres. ORA, which is not part of the Army’s cleanup program, is designed to assess the likelihood that munitions used during military testing and training are affecting the environment outside of the operational range boundary.
Munitions constituents refers to any materials originating from unexploded ordnance, discarded military munitions, or other military munitions, including explosive and nonexplosive materials, and emission, degradation, or breakdown elements of such ordnance or munitions. Some of these constituents, such as lead and copper, can be harmful to humans and wildlife, but many others, such as iron and organic dyes, are benign. The ORA results will help the Army and its neighbors better understand and address potential concerns.
- What has the Army done?
ORA Phase I assessments have been completed for all locations, determining the potential for MC to be transported off-range and determining if people or the environment in the areas surrounding the range could come in contact with the MC.
During ORA Phase I, the Army assessed:
- Type, amount and location of munitions use. The Army used this information to determine where MC may be located and what kind of MC is most prevalent.
- Location of streams or groundwater sources that can move the MC from ranges to surrounding areas.
- What people or environment in areas around the ranges rely on streams or groundwater sources that could potentially contain MC.
If assessment results indicate there is no danger, no further action is required beyond an ORA Periodic Review (conducted on a five-year basis). If the Phase I assessment indicated further investigation was necessary, the Army sampled the streams and rivers and/or groundwater resources to determine if MC are being transported to off-range areas. This sampling effort is identified as ORA Phase II.
When sampling data shows people or the environment around the installation could be exposed to MC, the Army performs mitigation to eliminate that exposure. This mitigation will be part of the Army’s environmental cleanup program, funded through the Defense Environmental Restoration Program. Regulators and people around the installation will be invited to provide input during the cleanup process.
During ORA Phase II, the Army assessed:
- Surface water bodies (e.g., streams, lakes) and groundwater to determine if humans or ecological receptors outside off-range areas were being exposed to MC.
- Stream sediment when the Army sampled surface water.
- Overall health of the stream to determine if MC exposure was damaging the stream’s ecosystem.
The Army used methods accepted by the Environmental Protection Agency and/or other regulatory agencies for all sampling. Sampling results were analyzed to ensure no humans or ecological receptors were exposed to MC at harmful levels. If sampling results indicate there is no danger, no further action is required beyond an ORA periodic review. If sampling data shows people or the environment were exposed to substances that pose a threat, the Army will conduct mitigation to eliminate that exposure off range through the cleanup program, and address migration through internal Army range management efforts.
During ORA Periodic Reviews, the Army assessed:
- Any new information and data, including changes to populations;
- Environmental changes; and
- Range use changes, to ensure its conclusions were still valid.
If conditions and assumptions remained valid, identifying no danger, no further action is required beyond a periodic review. If conditions changed or original conclusion was no longer valid, further investigation is conducted, that may include additional environmental sampling.
- What does the Army have planned?
The Army is preparing for the second cycle of ORA assessments, aka the second ORA periodic review, of Active Army and Army Reserve lands (National Guard Bureau will be assessing Army National Guard lands). Each installation or facility which received an ORA Phase I, Phase II or first cycle Periodic Review will be assessed unless they no longer have operational ranges or the installation has been transferred to another service. These assessments will examine the previous ORA results along with new information and data to determine if conclusions are still valid. If there are significant changes to the people or environment in areas around the installation or how the Army uses its ranges for training, the Army may perform a more in-depth assessment, which could include additional sample collection. If the assessment indicates no further sampling is necessary, the Army will schedule the next ORA periodic review. If sampling data shows people or the environment were exposed to substances that pose a threat, the Army will conduct mitigation to eliminate that exposure off-range through the cleanup program, and address migration through internal Army range management efforts.
- Why is this important?
Army Readiness is based on the ability to effectively train Soldiers, and long-term viability depends on balancing mission requirements with protection of human health and the environment. As part of the Army’s commitment to sustainability and military readiness, the Army is conducting environmental assessments on all of its operational ranges in the United States.
- Read more about it:
Department of Defense Directive 4715.11, Environmental and Explosives Safety Management on Operational Ranges Within the United States, May 10, 2004
Department of Defense Instruction 4715.14, Operational Range Assessments, November 30, 2005
U.S. Army Operational Range Assessment Program Reports