Text Size
Increase text size
Increase text size
Banner

Atlas Missile Sites

Atlas E Missile Complex Photo

 

The Atlas E was one of the first operational intercontinental ballistic missiles developed by the United States. The 82 foot-long missile was fueled by kerosene (RP-1 fuel) and liquid oxygen, and was designed to carry a nuclear warhead. A version of the Atlas missile was also used to launch four Mercury astronauts, including John Glenn, into earth orbit.

 

Developed in the late 1950s, the first Atlas E missiles became operational in late 1961. During the Cuban missile crisis in October 1962, the Atlas Es were readied for launch as a deterrent in the crisis. The Atlas E had a short operational life, however, and was phased out by 1965.

 

Each Atlas E missile site contained two underground structures: the missile launch and service building, and the launch operations building. The missile launch and service building consists of a large underground storage area that stored one Atlas missile horizontally. The roof would be retracted and the missile would be elevated into a vertical position for launch. The operations building contained crew quarters, launch control facilities, and diesel power generators. A tunnel connected the buildings. Complexes covered between 20 and 30 acres and had water supply wells or pump houses.

Atlas E Missile site map

 

There are five former Atlas E missile sites in Colorado. They are scattered across the northern plains in Weld and Larimer Counties (see map). F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, provided command and support facilities for the Atlas sites.

 

The sites were decommissioned and the missiles removed in 1965. The complexes were then sold to public and private owners. Two of the sites are used for commercial purposes (Atlas 11 and 13), one (Atlas 9) is being converted into a residence, another (Atlas 10) is covered with soil and is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, and one (Atlas 12) has become the Weld County Missile Park and is also used for county storage.

 

The Atlas sites are being investigated and cleaned up for the Department of Defense by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District. The sites fall under the Formerly Used Defense Sites program, which follows the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or "Superfund" process, although the sites are not on the Superfund National Priorities List.

 

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division, provides regulatory oversight of the FUDS programs in Colorado, with assistance from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 8, and local governments.

  • Soil contamination from petroleum chemicals and/or from polychlorinated biphenyls has been found at all five Atlas sites in Colorado.

  • Groundwater contamination from trichloroethylene, a cleaning solvent, has been found in groundwater at Atlas sites 11, 12 and 13. Trichloroethylene was used during site construction and by the missile crews to flush the fuel tanks after missile readiness tests. The crews disposed of the spent trichloroethylene and residual RP-1 fuel in a sump below the launch building that discharged onto the surface and then into shallow groundwater.

  • Water from domestic wells near some of the sites was tested, and no trichloroethylene contamination found.

  • Water in the launch building sump at Site 12 contains trichloroethylene; indoor air above the launch building sump at Sites 11, 12, and 13 may be a potential concern.

  • While the Atlas E missile was armed with a plutonium-based nuclear warhead, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has no evidence of radioactive contamination at the sites. Warhead maintenance occurred at the warhead-manufacturing facilities, not at the sites themselves.

Environmental investigations have focused on past Department of Defense practices at the missile sites, and include sampling and analysis of soil, groundwater, domestic well water, and water and air in the complexes.

 

  • Atlas 9: Investigations completed; soil removal action conducted in 2006. Site closure was completed in March 2008 and no further cleanup actions are planned for this site.

  • Atlas 10: Investigations completed; soil removal action conducted in 2007. Site closure was completed in April 2008 and no further cleanup actions are planned for this site.

  • Atlas 11: Investigations completed, including determining the full extent of groundwater contamination; soil removal action conducted in 2006. A feasibility study for groundwater cleanup is completed. Due to Department of Defense funding limitations, a long-term groundwater monitoring program is being developed until funding is available for groundwater cleanup plans. The US Army Corps of Engineers will develop an "Interim Response Agreement" letter in conjunction with the long-term monitoring scope of work in Spring 2009.

  • Atlas 12: Investigations mostly completed; a feasibility study for groundwater cleanup was completed in 2003. In June 2008, the US Army Corps of Engineers awarded a cleanup contract to conduct additional site characterization work and pilot testing of cleanup options. The work began Fall 2008. The contractor will use this information to prepare a proposed plan for groundwater cleanup of  and petroleum product on the groundwater. The proposed plan should be available for public comment in Janaury 2011. Installation of offsite monitoring wells to determine extent of offsite contamination is scheduled for spring 2009.

  • Atlas 13: Investigations completed including determining the full extent of groundwater contamination; soil removal action conducted in 2006. A feasibility study for groundwater cleanup is completed. Due to Department of Defense funding limitations, a long-term groundwater monitoring program is being developed until funding is available for groundwater cleanup plans. The US Army Corps of Engineers will develop an "Interim Response Agreement" letter in conjunction with the long-term monitoring scope of work in Spring 2009. Additionally, there is a 2008 proposal to construct the Glade Park Reservoir adjacent to this site and selection of a groundwater cleanup method will be delayed to see if the reservoir will actually be constructed.

Trichloroethylene in groundwater is the greatest concern at the Atlas sites. To date, no contamination has been detected in any domestic or private wells. Future monitoring and clean up efforts will help alleviate any remaining concerns.

 

Because contaminated soil has been removed from the localized areas on the sites, there is no health risk to nearby residents from soil contamination. Most sites are private property and should not be entered.  Tours of the Weld County Missile Park site may be arranged with Weld County.

Cleanup plans, including long-term groundwater monitoring plans, will be available to the public as they are developed. Plans will be placed on this website, and notices placed in local newspapers when the plans are available. Public meetings will be scheduled, as needed.

Documents related to the environmental investigations and clean up plans at the Atlas sites can be found at the following locations:

 

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division Records Center
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO  80246-1530
303-692-3331
comments.hmwmd@state.co.us  include "Records Center" in the subject line

 

Weld County, Sites 9, 10, 11 and 12
Weld County Library District
Farr Branch Library
1939 61st Street
Greeley, CO  80634

 

Larimer County, Site 13
Fort Collins Public Library
201 North Peterson Street
Fort Collins, CO  80524-2919

Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment

Ms. Tracie White, State Remedial Project Manager
303-692-3452
tracie.white@state.co.us

 

Jeannine Natterman, State Public Involvement Coordinator
303-692-3303

888-569-1831, ext 3303, outside 303/720 area codes
jeannine.natterman@state.co.us

 

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Mr. David Rathke, Ph.D, EPA Remedial Project Manager
303-312-6016

 rathke.david@epa.gov

 

Ms. Peggy Linn, EPA Community Involvement Coordinator
303-312-6622

 linn.peggy@epa.gov

 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Omaha District

Mr. Jeff Skog, USACE Project Manager
402-995-2739
jeffery.a.skog@usace.army.mil

  

Ms. Jill Solberg, USACE Public Affairs Specialist
402-995-2420
1-888-835-5971 (Toll-free)
jill.c.solberg@usace.army.mil