Written by GAP Senior Counsel, Richard Condit. Versions of this op-ed also appeared in the East Oregonian and Hermiston Herald.
The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) are responsible for overseeing the disposal of chemical warfare agents stored at the Umatilla Chemical Weapons Depot, including 2,200 tons of mustard agent.
Prior to 2007, the plan was to simply incinerate the waste, a practice defended because it is a quick fix. In theory, dangerous byproducts of the incineration process (lead, dioxin, PCBs) would not be emitted in harmful quantities because of the purported maturity of the incineration technology and the addition of filtration systems.
There's a big problem. The mustard agent contains a significant amount of mercury — which incineration can't destroy and filters won't completely capture. If the plan to incinerate proceeds, which the DEQ and EQC want, it is a certainty that mercury will be released into surrounding communities and the environment, including the Columbia River.