EPA OK’d plan to dump nerve agent into Delaware
Bucks County Courier Times | February 26 2006
By HARRY YANOSHAK
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency won't oppose the U.S. Department of Defense and DuPont Co.'s plan to dump a wastewater byproduct of a deadly nerve agent into the Delaware River.
The agency said it's assured of a safe treatment for up to 4 million gallons of caustic wastewater created in the treatment for VX, a chemical weapon with a pinhead-size potency to kill a human. DuPont is treating VX for disposal at its Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.
The agent, once neutralized, would be shipped to DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., for discharge into the river.
"EPA believes that all of our previously identified ecological concerns have been resolved," said Walter Mugdan, director of the agency's Environmental Planning and Protection division in New York, in a letter released Friday to CNN and obtained by The News Journal in Wilmington, Del.
The agency's position angers opponents of the disposal plan. They're concerned the wastewater would harm the Delaware, which supplies drinking water to millions. Furthermore, opponents say the EPA's opinion is premature and raises more questions about the wastewater's effects on river health.
The EPA forwarded its findings to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where analysts are considering health risks posed by the Army and DuPont's plan. A final report from the CDC is expected to go to the region's congressional delegations in April. An earlier study by the agency was inconclusive as to the health effects of the discharge.
Tracy Carluccio, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Riverkeeper based in Washington Crossing, criticized the EPA for its action.
"This report [by the EPA] is not conclusive in any way," she said Saturday.
Leaking the report "interrupted the normal procedures," and injected the EPA's bias into what was supposed to be an independent review of the data. She's concerned the EPA's publicized opinion in favor of the disposal plan would unduly prejudice any independent review of the data for the CDC.
"It's important from a scientific point of view is that the cumulative impact of all of these chemicals is known before you start discharging," she said.
Maya van Rossum, who heads Delaware Riverkeeper, also was critical. "Its premature release smacks of strong-arm politics to push the Army's and the present [Bush] Administration's biased agenda."
Delaware Riverkeeper bills itself as "vigilant protectors and defenders of the river."
Delaware and New Jersey opposed an earlier version of the plan, which involved the discharge of treated waste into the Delaware from DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J.
Government officials in both states have said they're concerned that traces of VX and other toxic byproducts would reach the river even after treatment.
Although the EPA found DuPont had proven the discharge would meet federal limits on toxic pollutants, the agency recommended additional work, including studies of fish and other aquatic life before treatment begins. The EPA, New Jersey, DuPont and the Delaware River Basin Commission would collaborate in those studies.
More than 250,000 gallons of VX stored at Indiana are being chemically neutralized. The process creates a wastewater called hydrolysate. About 11 percent of the government's VX stockpile has been neutralized.
The hydrolysate, which the Army has compared to liquid drain cleaner, is being stored in mobile containers until the government decides how to dispose of it.
John A. Hughes, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said he wasn't shocked by the agency's decision, but needs to review the evidence behind it.
"We did say early on that it's going to take new technology to make the VX treatment acceptable. The treatment level of the original plan was much too low," Hughes said.
The Delaware agency raised questions about DuPont's original proposal, eventually prompting the company to develop a new treatment step that would prevent toxic leftovers in the wastewater from escaping into the river.
Also of concern in Bucks County was the Army's plan to possibly ship the chemical by train through the Morrisville rail yard en route to DuPont's Deepwater plant.
Anthony Farina, a spokesman for DuPont, said the company was aware of the EPA's opinion and has yet to review details.
"Certainly we've been working very closely with the EPA in addressing their concerns," Farina said. "We look forward to seeing the final report when it's completed and released."
DuPont in mid-2004 said the company could make $13.5 million annually during the two- to three-year treatment process. Details of the contract or government payments to DuPont during preparations for the work were unavailable.
Brendan Gilfillan, a spokesman for New Jersey's governor, said Jon S. Corzine remains concerned about the proposal.
"We're still very interested in seeing the result of the CDC's study of the human impact," Gilfillan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Last modified February 27, 2006