|| Dumping VX Toxins in the Delaware River
April 20, 2004
On the Alex Jones Show yesterday we learned
of DuPont's plan to treat up to 4 million gallons of hydrolysate, a caustic wastewater, left over from the planned destruction of more than 1,200 tons of the nerve agent VX at the Army's Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.
Here's information on VX from The Delaware News Journal:
WHAT: A fast-acting, lethal nerve agent developed for land mines, spray tanks and rockets. Produced between 1961 and 1968 by FMC Corp. at a Newport, Ind., plant.
EFFECT: A fraction of a drop can disrupt nerve signals in the human body, causing loss of muscle control, respiratory paralysis and death.
REMAINING U.S. VX STOCKPILE: More than 1,200 tons held in more than 1,600 steel containers.
DuPont may treat nerve agent waste
Groups concerned disposal of deadly VX poses risks to people, Del. River
Delaware News Journal
Millions of pounds of treated waste from a deadly nerve agent could soon pass through a DuPont Co. complex at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey. The proposed project is part of a federal program to reduce the nation's chemical-weapons stockpiles.
The Army is scheduled to decide later this month whether to approve a plan to ship the wastes from Indiana to DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., for final treatment. The prospect has drawn questions from environmental groups in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Some of the groups contend DuPont's treatment plan poses potential risks to the Delaware River, a waterway that state officials believe has a toxic pollution problem.
DuPont already is conducting treatment trials on wastes from the deadly nerve agent VX at the company's Chambers Works Secure Environmental Treatment unit, along the Delaware.
"While the treatability study is continuing, the results we have today show us we're going to be able to treat it effectively and safely," said John Strait, Chambers Works plant manager.
The Chambers Works unit, one of the world's largest industrial wastewater treatment plants, had trouble fully treating similar material from the same nerve-weapon stockpile in Indiana in tests during the mid-1990s, according to DuPont and an official at the Army's Newport Chemical Depot. But treatment methods have improved since then, they said.
The Army last month dropped a plan to send the same wastes to a Dayton, Ohio, treatment system. A consultant hired by Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, said proposed treatment methods for the waste need more testing and monitoring to determine whether they pose a risk to people and the environment.
"Why is the Delaware Valley rushing to put their arms around something that was just stopped cold in Ohio?" asked John Kearney, who represents the Clean Air Council in Delaware.
Strait said DuPont's system is expected to render all of the wastes harmless. The same plant already has treated a different mix of chemicals formed during neutralization of mustard gas stockpiled at a military installation in Aberdeen, Md.
Liquid VX ranks among the military's most lethal chemical weapons, with a fraction of a drop on the skin likely to be fatal.
Bruce A. Rittmann, a civil, chemical and biological engineer at Northwestern University, said minute traces of VX and another nerve agent could remain in the neutralized wastes, which are highly toxic. Rittmann evaluated the waste treatment for Montgomery County and said some of the wastes could have passed unchanged through the Ohio operation.
"Given the threat to the environment and community, I think all the questions need to be answered and the answers need to be public. That's just my personal opinion," Rittmann said. "This is not just a run-of-the-mill industrial waste treatment scenario. This is really special, high-risk stuff and its handling deserves full public scrutiny."
Terry L. Arthur, public affairs officer for the Army's Newport Chemical Depot and Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, said the military would decide after Jan. 21 if it will ship the neutralized VX for waste treatment. The work is part of an estimated $300 million contract managed by Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group Inc., a California-based company.
"Our goal is to eliminate the risks to the community," Arthur said. "Since 9/11, folks have been worried about the potential for a terrorist attack" targeting chemical weapons stockpiles.
Only minute traces of VX and another less-deadly nerve agent would remain in neutralized wastes shipped off for treatment, an Army official said. The Army plan would bar shipments of wastes containing more than 20 parts per billion of VX. By comparison, one part per billion is equal to about a drop in a swimming pool.
Containers of the waste would be shipped by both rail and truck, along routes yet to be determined.
Past concerns about the waste, cited in government documents and public debates in the Midwest, include an offensive, skunk-like odor and a slight risk that the VX could spontaneously reform in the broken down wastes.
DuPont has said it plans to pretreat the wastes when they arrive to reduce the odors. That process also would reduce levels of a compound that plays a part in VX reformation, the company said.
Several environmental organizations say DuPont needs to answer more questions about environmental risks along the river.
Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has in the past asked the Environmental Protection Agency to have the river listed as "impaired" based on signs of chronic toxic pollutants, a move that could restrict any new toxic wastewater releases to the river. DuPont opposed the designation during state and EPA reviews. Studies of the issue are continuing.
Three environmental groups - Green Delaware, the Sierra Club Delaware chapter and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network - said they were concerned about the project.
"There's a moral obligation and a corporate obligation to let us know what's going on, and don't do it in little one-on-one meetings," said Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. "Have a big public meeting and let everybody know. Put the information out and seek public comment and input."
Governors oppose nerve gas plan
Army, DuPont say VX disposal project still viable
Delaware News Journal
The governors of New Jersey and Delaware jointly urged the Army Thursday to drop plans for shipping chemical-weapon disposal wastes to a DuPont Co. plant along the Delaware River. And the state House of Representatives unanimously approved a resolution opposing the project.
"There is the crystal clear message that these states reject this plan," said John A. Hughes, secretary of Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "In an environmentally stressed but recovering river and bay, we don't need a lot of oddball chemicals to worry about."
Reviews by environmental agencies in Delaware and New Jersey made public Thursday found gaps and unexamined problems - including risks from toxic metals - in studies used to support the proposal. About 79 percent of two little-understood chemicals will pass untreated through DuPont's Chambers Works wastewater plant in Deepwater, N.J., state scientists found.
Army and DuPont managers said after the governors' announcement that the project remained viable, but local environmental groups described the move by Gov. Ruth Ann Minner and Gov. James E. McGreevey as a serious setback for the disposal plan. Both state chief executives cited overlooked or inadequately studied pollution risks in their statements.
"The assessment of the potential impacts of a discharge to the Delaware Estuary is, in our opinion, neither complete in its execution nor conservative in its assumptions," the letter said. "We are concerned that if this project goes forward it would result in additional toxicity, nutrients, salt and metals being added to the Delaware Estuary."
Under the proposal, over two years DuPont would treat as many as 4 million gallons of caustic wastewater from a site in Newport, Ind., where another contractor is building a plant to neutralize 1,269 tons of VX nerve agents.
Minner and McGreevey said the Army should destroy the waste "in close proximity" to its source: a stockpile and neutralization site in Newport.
Army officials have set an April 19 deadline for public comment on the proposal.
Minner said she was willing to discuss the issue further with DuPont and the Army, but said both states would require "a lot more technical information" before reconsidering.
Col. Jesse L. Barber, alternative technologies and approaches manager for the Army Chemical Materials Agency, said the military would have to study issues raised in the letter, which was sent to the Secretary of the Army. Barber said the public comment schedule would stand for now.
"I would need to assess their concerns and see if I can address them before I decided: Do I continue down this pathway, do I redo something, or do I need to do something different?" he said.
Spokesman Anthony Farina said DuPont considered its plan safe and prudent.
"While we're confident in our assessments, which were conducted by very experienced scientists, we also understand that regulatory agencies and communities have concerns, and we want to address them," Farina said.
DNREC's review said DuPont's report lacked details on a number of pollutants likely to be present in the wastewater, including such toxic metals as arsenic, lead, mercury and chromium. State scientists also said the company's assessment may have overstated how diluted the toxic compounds would be as they are discharged into the river.
Since about 79 percent of two phosphonic acids will pass through the plant, DNREC found, Chambers works "does nothing special to this waste." Total phosphorus loads to the waterway - a potential contributor to algal blooms - would increase by 42 percent.
"From an engineering perspective, the lack of real treatment is sufficient, by itself, to dismiss this project. Treatment in this case is simply 'pass through' to the Delaware Estuary," DNREC's study found.
Environmentalists have said DuPont has not provided adequate assurances that waste shipments would be completely free of intact nerve agent residues that could harm striped bass.
"We've been saying all along that DuPont is relying primarily on dilution as its solution to pollution," said Maya K. van Rossum, who directs the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, a multistate environmental group.
Community opposition prompted the military to drop a plan to treat the wastes near Dayton, Ohio.
Earlier Thursday, DuPont said it would await a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of risks before accepting the Army's contract.
Rep. Gregory F. Lavelle, R-Sharpley, House sponsor of the resolution, said the citizens have spoken. "I don't see how we can have any stronger message that this is not a welcome proposition."
State worries over VX project
Wastewater from disposal projects eventually ends up in Delaware River
Delaware News Journal
State regulators say they are concerned that a DuPont Co. plan to treat waste from a deadly military nerve agent stockpiled in Indiana could lead to other chemical weapon waste disposal ventures at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge.
The officials and other critics of the plan said DuPont's commercial wastewater plant in Deepwater, N.J., could emerge as a candidate for an even larger role in the nation's chemical weapon disposal effort. About 31,500 tons of stockpiled chemicals must be destroyed nationwide by 2007 under an international treaty.
The plant already treats neutralized wastes from a 1,625-ton stockpile of mustard gas at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Aberdeen, Md.
"Some members of the public have correctly cautioned that if this project goes forward, what precedent does it set for treating the remainder of the VX stockpile that exists throughout the country?" said Kevin C. Donnelly, water resources director for Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control. "I think that's a very significant issue for New Jersey and Delaware to consider."
DuPont managers have said the company's wastewater plant can process the wastes without harming people or aquatic life. Spokesmen for the company would not rule out handling wastewater from other chemical weapon disposal projects, but said plans already are in place for dealing with most of the largest stockpiles.
"It's pretty well spoken for," said Todd Owens, engineer at the wastewater plant. "If there was any more opportunity for us to help with this program, it would be shipment of wastes from Pueblo [Colorado] and that's mustard."
Owens said DuPont could be interested in helping dispose of wastes from the smaller supplies of chemical weapons in dozens of states around the country.
Originally built to serve Chambers Works, the 40 million-gallon-a-day wastewater plant has for decades operated with excess treatment capacity. In 1976, DuPont began operating its Secure Environmental Treatment Facility at the site, taking in wastes from other sources as an independent business. It is now touted by the company as the largest of its kind in North America.
The Army's plan calls for the plant to handle 4 million gallons of wastes from VX nerve agent that have been neutralized. In its original form, the syrupy liquid ranks among the military's most lethal chemical weapons, with a fraction of a drop on the skin likely to be fatal. The amount proposed to be treated at the Deepwater plant is equal to about 4 percent of the nation's original supply of bulk chemical weapons.
Officials with the Army Chemical Materials Agency chose Deepwater late last year to handle the wastes from the 1,269-ton stockpile in Newport, Ind., after community protests scuttled a plan to treat it near Dayton, Ohio, where it eventually would have been discharged into the Great Miami River.
Army and company representatives have declined to discuss potential financial terms of the Newport contract, which involves compounds more hazardous than the wastes from Aberdeen, along with higher transportation costs.
Delaware and New Jersey regulators now are racing to finish reviews of DuPont's proposal.
The Army wants to close off public comment on April 19, and expects to make a decision on the plan shortly afterward. The first of several hundred shipments needed for the two- to four-year project is tentatively scheduled to take place by spring.
"Once you get it going and once the permits are there and they have the capacity, how do they stop it?" said Jack Buckley, a Wilmington businessman. "I see this as a business decision between the Army and DuPont. Obviously there's not a lot of leeway to stop it politically or through activism, except just raising a little bit of a stink."
Safety fears stir debate
The Delaware Senate last week overwhelmingly approved a resolution urging the federal government to drop plans to ship the wastes to the Delaware Valley "in order to protect and preserve Delaware's waterways." A House hearing on the same measure is scheduled to be taken up Wednesday by the Business, Corporations and Commerce Committee.
And with the Army's April 19 deadline for public comment looming, regulators in Delaware and New Jersey are raising new and potentially crippling questions.
"I think at the current time we are not yet persuaded that this can be done safely and certainly not persuaded that it needs to be done here," New Jersey Environmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell said.
Campbell said the Army has not allowed time for adequate review of the proposal. Plans to ship the neutralized wastes to the Deepwater site came to light in January, after the Army published a notice in a Salem County newspaper.
"I think by pushing too hard and too fast, the Army is leaving our two states in a position where we may have to insist on an environmental impact statement to see that our questions are answered," Campbell said.
Pressure to destroy the chemical weapons stockpiles has increased since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks because of fears that terrorists would target them.
Some citizens involved in the debate last year in Ohio said the Deepwater proposal is moving at a much faster pace.
"They always used to say to us that this is like drain cleaner. It's like anything that's being carted across the interstate daily. But we couldn't accept that," said Laura Rench, a member of Citizens for the Responsible Destruction of Chemical Weapons of the Miami Valley, in Ohio.
DuPont spokesman Anthony Farina said the company believes it produced complete and sound scientific studies to support the proposal. The company last month released a 350-page evaluation of transportation, treatment, health and environmental issues raised by the proposal.
"DuPont has completed a rather broad range of environmental and safety assessments regarding this wastewater," Farina said.
"We're unaware of any requests to conduct another round of assessments, but we would certainly welcome the opportunity to meet and address any questions that anyone, including the agencies, may have."
DNREC Secretary John A. Hughes declined to speculate on whether his agency would demand a full and potentially time-consuming environmental study before his staff completes research on the proposal.
"Our intent is clearly to stay aligned with New Jersey," Hughes said. "We've been working on this problem together, and we've sort of divided some of our research activities. We hope to stay together."
Col. Jesse L. Barber, alternative technologies and approaches manager for the Army disposal project, said the Army is developing contingency plans for the $1.1 billion disposal project at Newport in case the DuPont treatment plan falters. Under the fall-back proposal, the government would have tanks built to store 1.6 million gallons of neutralized wastes more highly concentrated than the material that would come to Deepwater.
The storage option, he said, could mean missing an international treaty deadline for completing the VX disposal project.
More studies under way
State officials are examining Army assurances that none of the nerve agent would survive the neutralization process and reach the river.
Federal officials have insisted that none of the wastewater would leave Newport if tests detect more than 20 parts per billion of VX, considered the lowest detectable concentration.
DNREC researchers cited at least one study showing that a majority of striped bass exposed to VX near that lowest level quickly died.
Also under study in Delaware are:
• Whether phosphorus compounds in the discharge could worsen summertime oxygen shortages in some parts of the estuary.
• Questions about the range of toxic compounds that could be formed during the neutralization process in Newport.
• Unexamined cumulative risks to the waterway after DuPont begins discharging the new chemicals.
• Whether there are risks to United Water Delaware's public drinking water intakes along White Clay Creek, some 12 miles upstream from Deepwater.
• Consequences for a multi-year state effort to have the Delaware River north of New Castle designated as "impaired" because of signs that pollution may be causing chronic problems for aquatic life. DuPont has led opposition to the impaired designation effort, which could, if approved, lead to strict limits or bans on actions that increase toxic releases to the river.
"We know that these are new pollutants, unique to VX hydrolysate, that are of significant ecological concern and for which we do not have scientific studies in terms of their aquatic impact," said Maya K. van Rossum, who directs the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, an environmental group.
Campbell said New Jersey officials do not oppose expansion of the plant's business, but "we want to have absolute assurances that there would be no adverse impact to the Delaware River, and some explanation as to why transportation nearly a third of the way across the country of this material is appropriate when the facility could be built there to handle this material."
Military offers assurances
While VX ranks among the world's deadliest chemical weapons, the military says that a neutralization operation in Newport will break down all nerve agent molecules in each shipment, leaving behind other far less toxic chemicals in a caustic mix called hydrolysate.
The neutralization process breaks down the VX by combining it with hot water and a caustic compound similar to drain cleaner. DuPont managers said that after the nerve agent wastewater is treated, the chemicals will be further neutralized or safely diluted in the Deepwater plant's 15 million-gallon-a-day discharge to the river.
Officials in both states and environmental groups have said that at least two obscure, phosphorus-type chemicals from the highly caustic wastewater shipped from Newport will pass largely unchanged through DuPont's system. State studies also are being conducted on the fate of other compounds formed in the process that breaks down the nerve agent.
"There are some questions about the toxicity of the phosphonic acids that go on through the plant," said Seth Ross, an engineer who has worked in the chemical industry and who is active with Delaware environmental groups. "DuPont reassures everyone that it's not a problem, but I'm not sure we have all the information. And there are still some questions about the cumulative toxicity on fish and aquatic life."
DNREC expects to soon complete a detailed study of pollution risks posed by the project.
Environmental groups said last week that they may ask the federal courts to require a full environmental impact study of the VX waste plan.
A citizen lawsuit was filed last fall before the Army abandoned the proposal to treat the same wastes in Ohio.
Where does state stand?
DuPont's effort to win the Army contract has spurred an examination by the state of Delaware to determine its right to influence decisions about discharges from the New Jersey plant.
"Chambers Works is no longer just Chambers Works," DNREC's Donnelly said. "It is a regional, some might say national, treatment facility for some pretty unique products, and we've got a river that we know is improving but has got some serious contamination issues."
All of the treatment operation is in New Jersey. But treated wastewater exits the plant by way of underwater pipes that extend 50 yards into the river, well inside the Delaware state line.
"That question has been posed to the Environmental Protection Agency," Donnelly said. "No one - New Jersey, EPA or even the Delaware River Basin Commission - is 100 percent certain on how all this works."
Delaware, N.J. don't want VX waste
April 9, 2004
DOVER, Del. -- The governors of Delaware and New Jersey said Thursday that wastewater from the destruction of a deadly nerve agent should be treated in Indiana, not at a DuPont facility along the Delaware River.
Govs. Ruth Ann Minner of Delaware and James McGreevey of New Jersey stopped short of saying they would fight DuPont's plan to treat up to 4 million gallons of hydrolysate, a caustic wastewater, left over from the planned destruction of more than 1,200 tons of the nerve agent VX at the Army's Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana.
But the governors said the Army and its contractors should reconsider the plan to treat the hydrolysate at DuPont's Secure Environmental Treatment facility in Deepwater, N.J.
"We believe that it is in the best interests of the citizens and natural resources of the states of Delaware and New Jersey that the ultimate compliance with the requirements of the Chemical Weapons Convention takes place in close proximity to the Newport, Indiana, depot," Minner and McGreevey said in a letter to be sent to acting Army Secretary Les Brownlee.
"The governor has been an outspoken critic of this placement from day one, and he is convinced it's a bad idea," said McGreevey spokesman Micah Rasmussen. "VX and the Delaware do not go together."
Minner said she is opposed to the plan as currently presented but would be willing to consider any changes or additional information presented by DuPont.
"We have a great deal of concern," she said.
Jeff Lindblad, a spokesman for the Army Chemical Materials Agency, said military officials would review the letter and respond to the issues raised by state officials.
Officials released a copy of the letter shortly before the Delaware House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing the General Assembly's opposition to the DuPont plan. The nonbinding resolution was approved by the state Senate last month.
"The question is, is DuPont going to listen?" said John Kearney, director of the Delaware Clean Air Council and an outspoken critic of the plan.
The primary concern of state officials involves two compounds in the wastewater, ethyl-methyl phosphonic acid and methyl phosphonic acid, which would be dumped into the Delaware River virtually untreated at the rate of more than two tons per day.
State officials say the two compounds are identified in the Chemical Weapons Convention as posing significant risk, and that simply diluting the acids before effluent is dumped into the river is "inappropriate."
"There is little, if any, published information about the environmental effects of these organic acids, and we are concerned about using the Delaware River and Bay as the testing grounds," the governors wrote.
In addition to potential stimulation of algal blooms from additional phosphorous in the bay, state regulators are concerned about the risks of transporting the hydrolysate from Indiana to the East Coast, and about residual VX in the wastewater, which could be present in amounts shown to be lethal to striped bass.
John Hughes, secretary of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, said DuPont has admitted that the SET facility does not have the capability to fully treat the phosphonic acids. But simply diluting the chemicals before dumping them into the river and claiming there will be no harm to the environment is not acceptable, he said.
"I think DuPont was uncharacteristically unconservative in their estimates," said Hughes, adding that DNREC officials worked hard to resist what he called "a rush to judgment."
"There has not been any deception that I've uncovered," Hughes added. "There's been optimism, which we can't afford in this business."
Earlier Thursday, DuPont announced that it would not accept an Army contract for the project until the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention completes a formal review. That review was requested last month by the congressional delegations of Delaware and New Jersey.
DuPont officials, who previously issued assurances that the project poses no significant risk to the environment or public health, also said they would address specific questions raised by Delaware and New Jersey regulators and would seek an independent review that could include studying the effluent to be dumped into river.
DuPont officials suggested that the independent study of the effluent could involve a baseline assessment of the river before the project begins and regular monitoring afterward.
"While we are confident in our science, we also understand that the community and regulatory agencies have concerns and we want to address them," said Nick Fanandakis, vice president and general manager of DuPont Chemical Solutions Enterprise.