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Kentucky Ordnance Works

The former Kentucky Ordnance Works (KOW) is a formerly used defense site located in McCracken County, Kentucky. The 16,126 acre site is located on the east bank of the Ohio River, approximately nine miles west of the city of Paducah, Ky.


The former KOW was an explosives manufacturing facility that operated during WWII, from December 1942 until August 1945 and produced approximately 196,490 tons of TNT.

After the plant closed, the property was originally transferred to the Atomic Energy Commission. Most of the former property is now owned by the Tennessee Valley Authority (Shawnee Steam Plant), the Department of Energy (United States Enrichment Corporation) and the Commonwealth of Kentucky (West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area). The West Kentucky Wildlife Management Area is over 4,000 acres and is managed by the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. The area is accessible to the public for hunting, fishing and recreation.

Congress established the Defense Environmental Restoration Program/Formerly Used Defense Site (DERP/FUDS) program to clean up properties that were under the jurisdiction of the Secretary and owned, leased, or possessed by the United States and transferred from Department of Defense (DoD) control prior to Oct. 17, 1986. (The term “Secretary” means the Secretary of Defense and the Secretaries of each of the military departments, as well as the Secretaries of any predecessor departments or agencies of DoD). The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) manages the FUDS program.

Major Milestones/Accomplishments

Since 1991, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Louisville District has been actively involved in the investigation and remediation of KOW. Environmental response actions at DERP/FUDS conform to the requirements of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP).

Underground Storage Tanks (USTs)

  • In the early stages of the Corps' work, USTs were found to remain on the former KOW property. According to a drawing from May 7, 1942, there were four underground tanks that were located on Kentucky Ordnance Works property near the coal storage silos. The drawing showed the Kentucky Ordnance Works Power Area, Acid Area and Shops Area. Two tanks were located east of the four coal silos. One tank was located along the railroad siding at a location east of building 718, the Locomotive House. One tank was located south of building 718 and south of the railroad siding that was placed between the millwright shop and the riggers shop. In order to distinguish between them these tanks were named Power #1 Tank, Power #2 Tank, Locomotive Tank and Shops Tank.

  • The Louisville District and its agent, CATI, Inc., performed excavation work in June 2003 at three sites uncovering each of these four tanks. The Locomotive Tank and the Shops Tank were deemed to be 12,000 gallons each in capacity. Documentation was submitted to the Division of Waste Management of the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In a Jan. 12, 2009 letter, the Underground Storage Tank Branch of the Division of Waste Management stated the project had reached no further action status for the Locomotive Tank and the Shops Tank.

  • The two tanks located east of the four coal silos were each deemed to be 14,000 gallons. Work was performed in 2009 and 2010 to demonstrate that all potential for contamination has been resolved at this tank site. The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has agreed that no further work is required for the tanks located by coal silos.

  • Exploration activities were conducted in two other areas of the former KOW suspected of having USTs. During 2009 test trenches were dug in the locations of two former garages that were operated as part of the KOW facility. No storage tanks were found during these activities, and no evidence of a release was found.

West Gravel Pits

  • Sampling of the West Gravel Pits showed concentrations of metals that represented a threat to ecological receptors in the surface soils. A Focused Feasibility Study and Proposed Plan were completed in 2007. A public meeting was held in March 2007 and a public comment period was held through the end of April 2007 to solicit input from the community.

  • The Focused Feasibility Study and Proposed Plan outlined three potential remedial actions: Alternative 1 was no action and is normally a remedy considered in these comparisons; Alternative 2 was complete capping of the fill material and rerouting of the surface drainage; and Alternative 3 was the capping of exposed fill material and rerouting of the surface drainage. This alternative would apply a soil cover to only the exposed waste material.

  • Alternative 3 was the recommended cleanup remedy and a final Decision Document was signed in December 2007. Contract specifications were developed in 2008 and a competition was held in 2008 to select the contractor to install the remedy. A contractor was given the formal authorization to proceed in 2008, and site work was performed in 2009.

  • Key to maintaining the soil cover is having live plants living on the cover material. If the soil cover were not covered in vegetation, water from storms would erode the cover away over time. The site has had erosion resistant mats placed at various slopes of the covered site. These mats provide a stable base for grass to take root.

  • The vegetation cover over the site has been established by seeding the area with native grasses. The grasses include Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Prairie Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans). The 2.9 acre site has had the erosion mat material placed and seeds planted over the site area. Vehicle traffic is prohibited from the site to prevent erosion of the installed cover.

KOW Photos

Contact Information

Public Affairs

    (502) 315-6769