Air Force concludes clean up at old B-47 nuclear bomb crash site

Conventional explosives left 35-foot diameter crater following 1958 crash

By Airman 1st Class Charles V. Rivezzo
7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

Dyess Air Force Base, Texas — The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a closure letter Nov. 1, for the environmental restoration of a site located 4.5 miles southwest of the flightline here, where a B-47 plane crashed in 1958.

On Nov. 4, 1958, a B-47 carrying one nuclear bomb caught fire while taking off from Dyess Air Force Base, crashing into a privately owned field. No nuclear detonation occurred, however, conventional explosives in the nuclear weapon detonated on impact, leaving a 35-foot diameter crater and scattering debris over an 800-foot radius area.

Teams from Dyess AFB and the Atomic Energy Commission responded to the accident site, removed debris, determined decontamination was not warranted, and deemed the area safe.

The Air Force's Restoration Program is designed to identify, investigate and cleanup contamination associated with past Air Force activities at active Air Force installations or off-site locations where contamination may have migrated. In accordance with these program initiatives, a team comprised of representatives from the Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine, Army Corp of Engineers, 7th Civil Engineer Squadron and the Air Force Safety Center was formed to remove uranium-contaminated soils and restore the crash site to preconstruction conditions.

Beginning in 2010, the team conducted a site investigation to evaluate uranium and lead concentrations in the surface and subsurface soils.

"The amount of contaminants found in the soil at the site was extremely low in most places," said Judy Overbey, 7th Civil Engineer Squadron regional restoration program manager. "Therefore the site, which has been used agriculturally for decades, has not posed a health risk to the residents of the Abilene community. The site cleanup was a proactive, precautionary measure taken to provide for any potential future use of the land."

Throughout the last two years, the team successfully excavated and removed radioactively contaminated soils from the area, meeting soil screening level established for the project. The standards for this project exceeded previous standards, such that upon the project's completion, the land was suitable for both future agriculture and residential use.

"We took a prudent effort to remove additional contamination to make this site acceptable for any future use," said Dr. Steven Rademacher, Chief of Radioactive Material Licensing and Safety of the Air Force Safety Center.

According to the non-time critical removal action uranium and lead contaminated soil report approved by the TCEQ, levels are now below Environmental Protection Agency recommended values for safety for any commercial or residential use.

"We value our relationship with the folks we have worked with at the TCEQ and are grateful for their contribution to bringing more than three years of hard work to a positive close," Overbey said. "This project should serve as an example of the Air Force's commitment to protecting the environment and to being a good neighbor in the communities in which we live and work."