Military Training Vs. Environment

CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports on an unprecedented case, where an environmental order has been issued to stop a military operation.

Located on Cape Cod, Mass., Camp Edwards is an active training ground for the Army National Guard, including live fire munitions of lead bullets, explosive artillery, and mortar shells.

However, for decades, the toxic residue from millions of rounds of ammunition seeped into the ground and, last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) stepped in to order a cease-fire. The EPA's action was the first of its kind in the country, effectively banning military training in order to protect the public health.

Now, as the troops move through the woods to take an enemy outpost, it may look like standard army training, but the soldiers are not doing much more than just playing war.

Since the ammunition ban took effect, the National Guard members who train at Camp Edward use whistles for explosions, and sometimes pine cones for grenades.

EPA administrator John DeVillars says the EPA acted when it became clear that the contamination threatened to poison hundreds of thousands of people.

"About 30 to 50 feet under the ground is the sole drinking water supply for the 200,000 people who live on Cape Cod and the hundreds of thousands of others who come to visit," said DeVillars.

The guardsmen now train with plastic bullets instead of toxic lead bullets. Sgt. Joe Sullivan says it is a poor substitute. "You get any kind of a good wind, and you're not gonna hit the target," he said.

The so-called green ammunition only has a range of 30 yards.

"Ecologically wise, this is the way to go" Sullivan says, "I just don't think it's the right way to train."

At bases across the nation, soldiers have been firing off millions of lead bullets year after year. While Camp Edwards may be the first base forced to turn to green ammo, it is almost certainly not the last.

The leader of the Massachusetts National Guard, Maj. Gen. Ray Vezina, says the Pentagon is taking too much time coming up with a solution.

"I think there are other training sites that are in danger in terms of probably ground water" Vezina says. "Frankly, I don't see a real sense of urgency on the part of some of the people that wear the same rank that I do at the army level. They're not going to like what I'm saying but that's O.K."

Green ammo made not of plastic but of non-toxic metals would allow soldiers to train realistically without threatening public health.

The Pentagon is running off some small batches for testing, but General Vezina is still waiting, watching one of his artillery batteries practice rappelling instead of firing their big guns.