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This health consultation addresses a community concern that beef, from cattle grazed on Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant (SFAAP), could be contaminated with harmful levels of nitroguanidine (NQ) or other chemicals associated with past production activities at this facility. After inspecting site conditions at the SFAAP, considering currently available information about the nature and extent of environmental contamination on the installation, and reviewing pertinent scientific literature, we conclude that uptake of nitroguanidine by beef cattle is unlikely. However, it is not known if other chemicals may be present in grazing areas that could contaminate beef. We concur with the Army's proposed plan to sample soil, vegetation, and surface water in graze lands. If chemicals that are known to bioaccumulate in animals are detected in grazing areas, sampling of cattle may be needed. Details supporting our conclusions are presented here.


During our initial site scoping visit to the SFAAP in September 1995, we toured the installation and observed cattle grazing areas. Cattle, weighing on average about 500 pounds, graze on SFAAP for approximately 3 months. During that time they gain between 200-300 pounds. The cattle are then moved to finish pastures or feedlots where they remain until they weigh between 1,100-1,200 pounds. Once the cattle reach this optimum weight, they are sold to processing plants.

Much of the plant property is leased for agriculture, and cattle do graze in some areas where nitroguanidine-containing wastewater was used to irrigate pastures over a two-year period, from the fall of 1986 through the fall of 1988. A study was done to evaluate the land treatment system at SFAAP and to determine the effect of the existing system on the soil and groundwater. The process wastewater contained detectable quantities of the explosive NQ, guanidine nitrate (GN is an intermediate material in the NQ production process), nitrate-nitrogen, sulfates, and low levels of cadmium, chromium and lead. However, soil samples, from irrigated areas that received the highest cumulative wastewater loading, contained no accumulation of wastewater constituents except for nitrogen and salinity levels. The levels of nitrogen and salinity detected in these soil samples would have no effect on cattle that graze in the area. Grasses, which utilize the nitrogen from the wastewater, grow more lush. When these grasses decay, the nitrogen is returned to the soil. Possible effects of increased salinity are plant toxicity and decrease soil permeability. The concentrations of metals detected in soils were comparable to background surface soils Nitroguanidine and guanidine nitrate levels in surface soils were also very low (below 2 parts per million).

Most contamination on SFAAP is associated with areas designated as Solid Waste Management Units (SWMUs). Some of the SWMUs are within grazing areas, but fences keep cattle from entering these contaminated parcels. Although the dewatered blender ponds (SWMU 13) are not fenced, steep banks and cattle guards at the entrance make it unlikely that cattle would stray into this area from adjacent grazing land. Moreover, chemical concentrations in background soils are consistent with levels detected in soils and sludge samples from SWMU 13.

Available information does not suggest that grazing areas on SFAAP would contain significant levels of chemical contamination. There may be some runoff from SWMUs that could transport contaminants into adjacent grazing land. The Army is planning additional sampling this year to address the concern about grazing areas. They propose sampling of soil and vegetation in the northeast, central and west grazing areas to determine what type of contaminants, if any, are present. The vegetation sampling will provide information about potential uptake of contaminants in plants. Analysis will include explosives, metals, polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and pesticides. Dioxin will also be analyzed in samples from the west grazing area, which is near the burning grounds where dioxin was previously detected. And finally, surface water and sediment samples will be collected where cattle have access to ponds and streams. If chemicals known to concentrate in tissue are present at concentrations exceeding background levels, sampling of beef cattle may be needed.


Concerns about the safety of consuming meat, primarily from game harvested from contaminated areas on ammunition plants in the U.S., have prompted a number of biota investigations. We review the findings of several of these studies and also provide information concerning the potential for nitroguanidine uptake in tissue.

Biota Studies:


Biota studies at ammunition plants in the U.S. indicate little or no uptake of explosives in animal tissues. Deer were the target species sampled in all of these studies. These studies evaluated HMX, RDX, dinitrotoluene (DNT), trinitrotoluene (TNT) and its metabolites (1,3-dinitrobenzene, 1,3,5-trinitrobenzene, 2-A-4,6- dinitrotoluene, and 4-A-2,6-dinitrotoluene). The explosives levels in deer meat were at or below the analytical detections limits, and do not pose a health threat to people who consume the meat. Although no cattle studies were done, we expect explosives levels in beef would be comparable to those found in venison since both cattle and deer are ruminants.

At Badger Army Ammunition Plant (BAAP) in Baraboo, Wisconsin, deer tissues (liver, muscle and heart) were analyzed for dinitrotoluene (DNT). None of the tissues from the 12 deer taken from BAAP contained 2,4-DNT or 2,6-DNT at or above the 0.1 part per million (ppm) detection limit.

Liver and muscle from deer, quail and rabbit harvested from the Alabama Army Ammunition Plant were analyzed for TNT and 9 metabolites. None of these tissues contained explosives levels above the detection limit of 0.2 ppm.

Deer studies at Joliet Army Ammunition Plant (JAAP), Illinois, address concerns about environmental contamination in the explosive manufacturing area and the load, assemble and pack (LAP) area. No bioaccumulation of explosives were detected in venison, liver and kidneys from deer harvested from JAAP.

Muscle and liver from deer harvested from the Aberdeen Proving Ground and background sites in Maryland contained no detectable levels of explosives. The analysis included 2,4,6-TNT and its metabolites (1,3-DNB, 1,3,5-TNB, 2-A-4,6-DNT, and 4-A-2,6-DNT), RDX, HMX, 2,4-DNT, and 2,6-DNT.

None of the ammunition plant studies have included analysis for nitroguanidine (NQ) in animal tissue. However, because NQ-containing wastewater was land applied at SFAAP, a laboratory study was done to assess effects on local vegetation. There was some evidence that NQ, at least in soybeans, is absorbed by roots and translocated to the leaves, where it induces chlorosis (growth inhibition and leaf damage) and is metabolized. In the same study it was unclear if there was uptake of NQ in grasses (tall fescue and smooth bromegrass) because little or no effects were seen in these plants.

Laboratory studies on the effects of nitroguanidine on animals has also been investigated. Animal experiments indicate that NQ is unlikely to accumulate in tissue because the chemical is not extensively metabolized. [ pV-2] Experiments in rats given nitroguanidine orally, demonstrated that virtually 100% of the unmetabolized chemical is excreted in the urine within 48 hours. The NQ was initially concentrated in the gastrointestinal tract, then distributed in the blood to the major organs. However, within 48 hours after dosing, less than 0.02% of the administered dose remained in any major organ. [ pV-2] These findings suggest that even if NQ is detected in soils and/or vegetation in grazing areas on SFAAP, it appears improbable that tissue accumulation in beef would occur. Because the unmetabolized compound is quickly eliminated in urine, deposition of NQ in meat is not expected, particularly since the cattle are slaughtered months after they grazed on SFAAP.

No studies of health effects of nitroguanidine in humans have been reported in the literature. [pVII-1,] No chronic toxicity or carcinogenicity studies are available for NQ, therefore it is classified in Group D; Not classified as to human carcinogenicity. [ pXI-1]

Other Chemicals

Some biota studies also evaluated uptake of organochlorine pesticides (DDT, DDD, DDE), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and metals because these chemicals can be stored in tissues. At Joliet Army Ammunition Plant, Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), and respective off-post background locations for both sites, no uptake of PCBs or organochlorine pesticides occurred in deer tissues. Arsenic was detected in venison, and in deer liver from APG, in deer harvested from both on-post and off-post locations. However, none of the arsenic levels pose a health threat to people who consume the meat. In a deer study conducted in New Jersey, cadmium levels in livers from older deer prompted the issuance of a health advisory. Based on these studies, it appears that metals can accumulate in deer tissues; however the levels may or may not pose a health threat.


  1. Nitroguanidine is not expected to accumulate in beef because animal studies indicate the chemical is not extensively metabolized. Moreover, evaluation of the effects of irrigating pasture land on SFAAP with NQ wastewater demonstrated no accumulation of constituents that pose an uptake concern in cattle.

  2. Numerous biota studies demonstrate that uptake of explosives in animal tissue, particularly deer, does not occur. Because deer and cattle are both ruminants they have similar metabolic processes; therefore, it is equally unlikely for cattle to accumulate explosives in their tissues.

  3. Studies have shown that some uptake of metals in deer does occur. At SFAAP, the NQ wastewater used to irrigate pasture land contained detectable levels of cadmium, chromium and lead. However, the metals concentrations in soil samples from irrigated areas are comparable to background levels of metals in soil, which do not pose a health threat.

  4. We concur with the Army's proposed sampling plan to analyze explosives, metals, PAHs, PCBs, pesticides and dioxin levels in surface soils, vegetation and surface water in grazing areas on SFAAP. If chemicals known to bioaccumulate in animal tissue are detected in grazing areas, and they occur at levels consistently above background concentrations, the Army should sample cattle that graze in those areas of the plant.

If further clarification is needed or if additional information becomes available for review, please do not hesitate to contact this office at 404-639-6070.

Lorna L. Bozeman, M.S.


  1. Parker MS. Letter to Secretary Glickman, Department of Agriculture regarding possible contamination of beef cattle grazed on Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, DeSoto, Kansas. April 20, 1995.

  2. Burns & McDonnell. Memorandum from Dennis Degner, Burns & McDonnell to Don Meier, CEMRK-EP-EC concerning Field Sampling Plan for Grazing Study. January 8, 1996.

  3. Burns & McDonnell. Letter from Dennis Degner, Burns & McDonnell to Ralph Burns, Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant concerning Summary of Recommended Sampling Strategy for the Grazing Study. January 17, 1996.

  4. Swanson JK. Memorandum for Record, Subject: Jack Meyers Stocker and Feeder Cattle Operation on Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. Department of the Army, Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant. June 12, 1995.

  5. US Army Environmental Hygiene Agency. Final Report, Water Quality Engineering Study No. 32-24-0820-89, Land Treatment System Evaluation, Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, DeSoto, Kansas. May 9-21, 1988.

  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Criteria and Standards Division, Office of Drinking Water. Health Advisory for Nitroguanidine (NQ). May 1990.

  7. Law Environmental, Inc. Data Summary Tables - Background Surface Soils and SWMU 13 Subsurface Soils and Sludge - Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, DeSoto, Kansas. January and August 1995.

  8. Shugart LR. Dinitrotoluene in Deer Tissues, Final Report. Environmental Sciences Division, Oak Ridge National Laboratory. September 30, 1991.

  9. Shugart LR, Griest WH, Tan E, Guizman C, Caton JE, Ho CH and Tomkins BA. TNT Metabolites in Animal Tissues, Oak Ridge National Laboratory Final Report. ORNL/M-1336, December 1990.

  10. U.S. Army Environmental Hygiene Agency. Draft Final Health Risk Assessment from Consumption of Deer Muscle and Liver from Joliet Army Ammunition Plant. January 14, 1994.

  11. U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine. Draft Field Study No. 75-23-YS50-94, Health Risk Assessment of Consuming Deer from Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland. October 1994.

  12. Burrows EP. Environmental Microbiology and Effects of Nitroguanidine (NQ) on Physiology of Plants. Proceedings for the 13th Annual Environmental Quality R & D Symposium, Williamsburg, Virginia. Hosted by U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Materials Agency. November 15-17, 1988.

  13. Literature Review for Nitroguanidine. National Technical Information System. July 19, 1995.

  14. Stanley W, Roscoe DE and Hazen HE. Cadmium Contamination of Deer Livers in New Jersey: Human Health Risk Assessment. The Science of the Total Environment 107:71-82. 1991.

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