FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Richard Condit, GAP Senior Counsel
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext 142
Contact: Karyn Jones, G.A.S.P.
Contact: Dylan Blaylock, GAP Communications Director
Phone: 202.408.0034 ext. 137, 202.236.3733 (cell)
Alabama Chemical Weapons Depot Requests Info on Alternative to Mustard Agent Incineration
Plants Similar to Umatilla Exploring ‘Controlled Detonation’ Option;
Oregon DEQ and EQC Decline to Ensure Key Information Will Be Provided Before Burning Begins
(Washington, D.C.) – The Army’s chemical weapons depot contractor in Alabama has recently sent out a request for a proposal seeking a subcontractor to destroy mercury-laden mustard agent munitions through a process known as “controlled detonation,” the Government Accountability Project (GAP) has learned. It is believed that a similar proposal is being circulated seeking a controlled detonation system for munitions an Army facility in Utah as well.
The mustard agent is the same type of material that the Umatilla Chemical Depot (UCD) in Hermiston, Oregon has been planning to begin incinerating in the near future. The mustard agent at all three of the plants contains significant amounts of mercury and other hazardous chemicals which when released could be damaging to public health, wildlife, and the environment. Some nearby residents and several local groups, including G.A.S.P. (a nonprofit watchdog focusing on UMCDF), the Sierra Club, and the Oregon Wildlife Federation, have been fighting for years to stop the intended incineration process and employ safer destruction technologies.
While the Alabama proposal specifically details the actual, high levels of mercury (and other hazardous elements such as arsenic) contained within its mustard agent to be destroyed by this new process, the quantities of such hazardous wastes in the ‘ton containers’ stored in the Umatilla stockpile (63 percent by weight of all the stockpiled munitions) have never been determined, because the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) and Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) have refused to require testing. It is known that UCD’s mustard agent does contain significant amounts of mercury, however, because plant officials announced it did in 2007.
“Oregon law is unique in demanding that the method of chemical agent disposal be the ‘best available technology’ for doing so,” stated GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit, the attorney representing the residents and groups regarding their challenges to the Umatilla facility. “Therefore, it should be of keen interest to Oregon officials that these other plants, each of which has the legal right to simply burn the munitions, are choosing to explore other options.”
The EQC and DEQ decided last year to move forward with their incineration plan for the UCD mercury-laced mustard agent. The decision was made despite evidence included in a DEQ report earlier last year showing that the risk of cancer to humans posed by the incineration plan exceeded Oregon’s acceptable risk standards. Both agencies were presented with proposals regarding the controlled detonation technology, but quickly dismissed the idea. That process, simplistic in concept, involves building indestructible rooms and detonating the agent within such facilities using high-power explosives. The immense heat and pressure from a contained process essentially vaporizes the agent, leaving minimal residue.
Condit questioned the DEQ’s and EQC’s perfunctory review and dismissal of the controlled detonation technology: “It is difficult to imagine how the DEQ and EQC could have thoughtfully compared controlled detonation with incineration based upon the record that I have seen to date. A controlled detonation vendor made a very persuasive presentation to the DEQ but the technology was rejected without much analysis. Sadly, the same was true for the agencies’ inexplicable rejection of neutralization as a disposal technology. ”
Long time activist and Hermiston resident Karyn Jones added that: "No matter what evidence is presented to the DEQ or EQC from a variety of sources it seems that incineration is the perfect fix for them. The DEQ and EQC seem more like advocates for incineration than watchdogs dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Incineration’s biggest flaw is the release of literally tons of hazardous chemicals into the environment. Other technologies are virtually closed loop and do not subject us to huge quantities of toxic emissions.”
The army contractor’s request in Alabama seeks to “to award a Firm Fixed Price Subcontract for Explosive Destruction Technology (EDT) for the Destruction of Chemical Munitions at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (ANCDF), Anniston, Alabama.” It is believed that a similar request for proposal has been issued regarding the destruction of certain munitions at the Army’s Tooele, Utah facility as well.
The RFP for the Anniston facility indicates that the purpose for adding a controlled detonation unit is to “destroy problem munitions - munitions that are leaking chemical agent or munitions that are rejected from the baseline demilitarization process at ANCDF. Additional munitions may be processed in the EDT at ANCDF as part of the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) Reliability, Availability, and Maintainability (RAM) testing.” The request also states that the EDT system “should be a transportable unit so that it can be moved to other sites in the United States. When ANCDF processing has completed, there are potential follow-on applications for the EDT at other locations to process chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) or the Pueblo Chemical Depot (PCD), non-stockpile chemical weapons or for destruction of conventional weapons stored at various locations.”
The proposal notes that the mustard (HD) filled munitions that will be processed by the EDT system may contain as much as 357 parts per million (ppm) of Arsenic and 70.4 ppm of Mercury, and other heavy metals. HD is the type of mustard that is stored in UCD ton containers.
The DEQ’s and EQC’s Lack of Transparency
In an April 14th public records request submitted to the DEQ, GAP, G.A.S.P., OWF, Sierra Club and local residents requested:
1. Notes of a recent meeting with EPA officials,
2. Any data indicating testing of the contents of the mustard ton containers,
3. UMCDF’s Clean Air Act Title V permit, and UMCDF’s Air Pollution Discharge Permit,
4. The current version of UMCDF’s hazardous waste disposal permit, and other documents.
The DEQ/EQC responded, through counsel at the Office of the Oregon Attorney General, by threatening to charge fees for the documents and refusing to commit to a date certain when the records will be produced. GAP has been advised that a “response” will be provided on May 11, 2009.
Moreover, a request was made to determine the date when testing, shakedown or operation for the burning of the mustard ton containers would commence at UMCDF. This request was made by GAP after repeated attempts by residents over a month had failed to result in the agencies producing the information. Counsel for the agencies directed GAP to seek this information through “litigation mechanisms.”
“Typically, state environmental agencies are in favor of greater transparency regarding processes that could potentially harm human health – they want to present all information, and then make a decision, so that the public is satisfied, knowledgeable, and comfortable with future actions,” said Condit. “But the messages we have received indicate that the State is refusing to commit to supply key information before rushing to burn the mustard agent. The public deserves to have timely access to such critical information.”
Please contact GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit at 202.457.0034 ext. 142, firstname.lastname@example.org, or G.A.S.P. representative and petitioner Karyn Jones at 541.567.6579, email@example.com.
Government Accountability Project
The Government Accountability Project is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, GAP’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government and corporate accountability. Founded in 1977, GAP is a non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C. and Seattle, WA.