Texas Groups Accept One Army Chemical Weapons Waste Shipment

PORT ARTHUR, Texas, December 11, 2008 (ENS) - Environmental and social justice groups in Port Arthur, Texas have agreed to accept a one time shipment of chemical weapons waste from Kentucky similar to that which they have fought for years to keep out of the state.

This time, because of several chemical weapons were found to be leaking GB, or Sarin, at a U.S. Army chemical weapons depot in Kentucky, the groups are willing to accept a small amount of the waste.

Hilton Kelley, director of the Community In-Power Development Association, one of the grassroots citizens groups in Port Arthur, said they will not oppose the shipment of about of 8,000 gallons of the waste that remains after the leaking weapons are treated in Kentucky.

"Although we don't desire any more of this material to be brought here to our community, we recognize at the same time, these are special circumstances," said Kelley. "Our fellow citizens in Kentucky are under the gun, being at risk due to these leaking containers and we feel it is our duty to step up and assist them in their time of need."

In November and again on December 1, Army officials reported that chemical workers inspecting the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile discovered M55 rockets leaking GB vapor within airtight shipping and firing tubes. The leaks were discovered during routine maintenance and monitoring procedures and "posed no threat to the surrounding depot or external community," the Army said.

Processing of the leaking materials began in Kentucky on November 12. Two containers of liquid waste will be shipped to Texas sometime in late January or February of next year, after all the agent contaminated materials have been neutralized.

"The situation in Kentucky is that there are leaking containers of GB agent contaminated liquid that must be destroyed immediately and there is no capacity to deal with the resultant liquids at this site," said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, CWWG.

From its base in Berea, Kentucky, 15 miles south of the Blue Grass Army Depot, where the leaking chemical weapons were discovered, the Chemical Weapons Working Group has focused on safe elimination of these weapons stockpiles as required by international treaty.

The group fought successfully to prevent the chemical agent VX hydrolysate from being shipped to Ohio and New Jersey from an Army facility in Indiana.

More recently CWWG and the Community In-Power Development Association fought unsuccessfully to stop that waste material from being sent to Texas and incinerated here.

According to the U.S. Army, the Veolia incinerator in Port Arthur is the only facility in the country permitted to handle this type of waste.

Kelley said, "However, this should not be interpreted as opening the door to such shipments in the future. If the Army believes we are willing to accept more, they are sorely mistaken."

Kevin Flamm, program manager of the Army's disposal program in Kentucky, Kevin Flamm, has said that the waste shipment to Texas "is not intended to set a precedent in any way with respect to the secondary waste generated by the Blue Grass Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant."

That plant will include a separate treatment capability to handle the neutralized materials from its stockpiles of GB, VX and mustard agent when operations begin around 2015.

Blue Grass Chemical Activity, a tenant organization of the depot that reports to the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, is responsible for the safe, secure storage of the chemical weapons stockpile stored at the depot, which comprises 523 tons of nerve agents GB and VX, and mustard agent in projectiles, warheads and rockets.

Our organization and the entire Kentucky Governor's Commission have communicated in the strongest terms, our opposition to shipping the vastly larger amount of liquid materials generated from disposing of the remaining 523 tons of agent stored here to Texas," said Williams.

Located near Richmond, Kentucky, the Blue Grass Army Depot is one of six Army installations in the United States that currently stores chemical weapons.

To destroy the chemical weapons stockpile at Blue Grass, the Army has chosen a technology known as neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation.

Veolia Environmental Services of Lombard, Illinois is seeking to provide final treatment of the resulting waste at its incineration plant in Port Arthur. The company is a subsidiary of the Paris-based global environmental services corporation Veolia Environnment.

Port Arthur already has an air pollution problem due to the operation of four large industrial complexes in the southern part of the city. These factories release air toxics such as volatile organic compounds or nitrogen oxides. Citizens groups blame the high incidences of asthma and cancer among residents in western Port Arthur to the frequency and magnitude of these emissions.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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