Article written by Vickie Welborn for the Shreveport Times. Find the original story here.
Advanced treatment technologies that safely destroy explosive materials are at work across the country and should have been considered rather than an open burn at Camp Minden to destroy over 15 million pounds of M6 propellant, experts agreed Thursday in a morning telephone news conference.
Solutions and alternatives are keys to "breaking the stalemate on having a government agency saying this is the way we are going to do it without involving the people," said Craig Williams, executive director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group in Berea, Ky., where a similar fight was waged in the 1990s. Citizens there formed a coalition opposing the construction of chemical weapons incinerators and were successful in passing federal legislation mandating the research and implementation of safer, non-incinerator methods.
We took it upon ourselves to identity alternatives to what they were proposing. We were successful in stopping a multi-billion dollar Pentagon program from moving forward based on there is another way to do this," Williams said.
Jane Williams, executive director of California Communities Against Toxic and no relation to Craig Williams, facilitated the news conference that also included Brian Salvatore, a LSUS chemistry professor who was the first to raise red flags about an open burn from a scientific standpoint, and state Rep. Gene Reynolds. During the hour-long presentation, Salvatore reviewed the chemical composition of the M6 and the potential danger to health and environment it poses during an open burn process, while Reynolds encouraged citizens rallying against it to stay united in their fight.
"Stay the course, don't give up. They want you to get tired and give up. If we stay the course and keep at them, we'll have a good solution," said Reynolds, who has a meeting scheduled Friday at the Pentagon to talk with Army explosives experts about the situation at Camp Minden.
He also wants to call another meeting of a legislative Homeland Security oversight committee to get all of the parties involved under oath and on the record about what's taken place so far.
Craig Williams, who's been working with various groups since 1986 in identifying alternatives to the destruction of chemical weapons, said if he was to scope out the worse of all possible ways to destroy M6 it would be an open burn. EPA and Army regulators also are aware, he said, it is not a "good process."
"Even incineration would be a step in the right direction. I was an active anti-incineration advocate for 30 years; it goes against my belief … but even that would be head and shoulders above an open burn."
Craig Williams reviewed several alternatives that already have approval from the Depart of Defense Explosives Safety Board, including detonation chambers operated by three companies, OZM Research, Dynasafe and Davinch. "All of those were deemed to be acceptable against rigorous criteria, but particularly in environmental and public health protection area."
There's also Supercritical Water Oxidation, or SCWO, that uses water, high temperature and pressure to separate the organic compounds, as well as ARCTECH, which Craig Williams said not only has been certified by the EPA to destroy explosives but also turn them into other products.
He didn't go into detail on ARCTECH's process, but in a separate interview with The Times, Daman Walia, the company president, said he met with EPA Region 6 officials in January 2014 to brief them on his use of Actodemil at other military installations to recycle propellants and explosives into fertilizer. He said he was frustrated when he learned the EPA chose an open burn, which the public now is opposing.
Walia said his team has long history of developing environmental and safer solutions. He stated in 1980's developed composting technology to clean up explosive contaminated soils and was successfully used at many military installations, including Louisiana Army Ammo Plant, which is now Camp Minden.
ARCTECH's advanced technology uses chemical hydrolysis to convert explosive or energetic chemicals found in the propellants so they are no longer a danger then recycle them into fertilizer. "It's a simple chemical process that is near ambient conditions. You don't have to use the burning of propellants. We've done many, many projects at different military installations as well as in other countries," Walia said. "It literally offers to turn swords to ploughshares."
The organic humic fertilizer complies with EPA standards of land application of recycles wastes and has been used to establish cover on marsh lands in the University of Louisiana's research on coastal land restoration. His approach is approved by EPA per the 1997 munitions rule and adopted by the Louisiana DEQ as acceptable recycling technology and exempt from lengthy permitting required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law enacted in 1976 governing the disposal of solid waste and hazardous waste..
Even though the requests for proposals seeking contractors to get rid of the M6 specified an open burn process only, ARCTECH submitted a letter proposal asking to be considered.
A call by The Times Thursday to the state office of procurement to determine how many bids were received and identities of the companies was not returned.
"The public needs to know there are proven alternatives to an open burn, including ARCTECH's approach to recycle munitions into fertilizer that has been used multiple times by the military, " said David Beaird, a former Army officer with combat service in Iraq whose parents still live in Doyline. "Because of my field artillery duty, I know firsthand the danger of the explosives at Camp Minden, so I took it upon myself to do research and learned that ARCTECH has a solution that is worthy of consideration."
Walia said his Chantilly, Va.-based company could deploy within 3 months of a contract and take care of the M6 within 18 months and can be also used for 1 million pounds of other explosives materials he understands are stored at Camp Minden.
"These can be done safely and create a value out of them. The public should not have to be put through this for the government not to do the right thing," Walia said.
Craig Williams said the 90-day extension granted last week by the EPA for the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and Louisiana Military Department allows for the consideration of other options. As for the information from the Army and EPA the M6 – stockpiled in 97 earthen storage magazines scattered across Camp Minden – is at an increased danger of exploding due to instability, he said the Army said the same in 1993 about material in Kentucky.
It hasn't blown up yet, he said, and there was no evidence or credence to the threats made to the community by the Army to advance its open burn method. If it takes another year to work out a solution at Camp Minden, "I would think it would be time well spent."
If there was really a case of "imminent and substantial endangerment" and explosion, the Army has the equipment and ability to deploy to Camp Minden quickly, said Jane Williams. "At this point, it's a raw political battle. It has nothing to do with science."
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