Community members living near an army ammunition plant traveled to Washington, DC, on Monday to deliver petitions to their senators and representatives calling for groundwater testing near the plant. The work of local residents demonstrates the importance of citizen action and environmental data in protecting public health.

The Army Radford Ammunition Plant, located in Radford, VA, is one of the biggest polluters in the area, reporting over 13 million pounds in chemical releases and 70 million pounds of waste in 2011, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data. Local residents and a community group, called the Environmental Patriots of the New River Valley, are concerned about the impact of these toxic releases on their drinking water.

The community group also petitioned the U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (a federal agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to test private wells near the plant. Specifically, these tests would look for evidence of 2,4-Dinitrotoluene, or DNT (a toxic substance used in explosives and harmful to the nervous and circulatory systems) and perchlorate (a chemical considered a "likely human carcinogen" by the EPA and used for missiles and explosives). The EPA is currently developing proposed standards for perchlorate in drinking water.

Radford is but one example of the many communities nationwide that have struggled to get their drinking water tested and monitored. Their perseverance demonstrates the importance of citizen action on issues of public health and safety. Too often, communities near industrial facilities encounter disinterested or disingenuous corporate executives, as well as government officials with limited resources and rules that restrict their actions.

Communities have a right to know if there are toxic chemicals in their drinking water, and lawmakers have a responsibility to protect their communities. If you are wondering about toxic emissions in your area, you can look up your city or zip code on our environmental right-to-know (RTK NET) databases.

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