Activists fear South Jersey could get more weapons waste

LAWRENCE HAJNA, COURIER-POST, SEPTEMBER 13, 2006
Opponents of the Army’s plan to ship neutralized VX nerve agent from Indiana to a wastewater treatment plant in South Jersey have long feared that the project could open the door to the region becoming the final destination for more chemical weapons waste products.
Meetings this week in Kentucky and Colorado are fueling speculation that the Army is setting the stage for just that.
In those meetings, the Army is telling the public it would be much cheaper to ship the wastewater from its Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado and the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky to an existing commercial treatment plant than to try to build plants at the facilities.
The Army is not naming destinations for the wastewater – or if this will even be the ultimate strategy.
But environmental activists argue DuPont’s Secure Environmental Treatment facility at its Chambers Works plant along the Delaware River in Salem County is the most logical choice to accept the wastewater.
As early as 2003, the Army analyzed treatment options for the Pueblo facility, which stores 2,600 tons of mustard agent in rockets, projectiles and bursters. It listed DuPont’s Chambers Works plant in Deepwater as one of five industrial wastewater treatment plants having the ability to treat the facility’s wastewater.
DuPont was also the only one ”confirmed to have sufficient excess capacity to treat all the mustard hydrolysate” from the Pueblo facility, the report noted, adding the other four are ”significantly smaller.”
U.S. Rep. Rob Andrews, D-Haddon Heights, a critic of the Army’s plan to ship wastewater from neutralized VX from the Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana to DuPont, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I don’t think they’re anywhere near making a decision, nor should they be,” said Andrews, adding that he would insist on a “full and open” public process should DuPont be considered.
Activists, however, maintain the Army is buying time to see how South Jersey’s nearly three-year-old battle against wastewater from VX nerve agent from Newport finally plays out before moving forward with DuPont.
“My speculation is that if Indiana comes your way, you’re going to get it all,” said Craig Williams of the Berea, Kentucky,-based Chemical Weapons Working Group.
Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club executive director, argues DuPont “could become the processing plant for the Army’s waste; this could become a very lucrative business for them.”
But Army officials say hundreds of millions of dollars could be saved by not having to build new treatment plants for the caustic wastewater that results from the neutralization process.
“It certainly makes sense to use existing commercial facilities,” said Katherine DeWeese, spokeswoman for the Army’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program, which oversees the two facilities. “The public has been asked to keep an open mind about shipping hydrolysate off-site.”
The Army compares hydrolysate to household drain cleaner. Once neutralized, the wastewater contains no traces of deadly chemical agents but still needs final treatment, Army officials say.
Whether that’s the case or not, Ross Vincent of the Colorado Sierra Club argues opponents prefer on-site treatment to avert safety risks from transporting the waste. Ultimately, he argues, it would take less time to build the plant and get rid of the waste than fight opposition in other states.
“There is absolutely no reason to put up with all the heartburn that goes with trying to ship it,” he said.
DuPont spokesman Anthony Farina stressed his company remains “squarely focused on the Newport project.”
In July, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a second evaluation that found DuPont is capable of treating the Newport hydrolysate and safely discharging the effluent into the Delaware River.
“I can categorically tell you that we have not been approached about taking waste from other Army sites,” he said.
The company has not set a date to accept hydrolysate from VX being destroyed in Indiana. The company wants to meet with community groups to go over the CDC report and address any lingering doubts, Farina said.
George Kumor, a Cumberland County commercial fisherman, was initially opposed to the project, fearing DuPont would discharge VX into the river and bay. After doing more research, he felt better about the project.
“Once I educated myself, I felt it could be done safely,” he said.
Reach Lawrence Hajna at (856) 486-2466 or lhajna@courierpostonline.com

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