for more information:
Elizabeth Crowe: (859) 986-0868
Poka Laenui: (808) 696-5157
for immediate release: Tuesday, September 19, 2000
Two grassroots environmental coalitions are alleging that the Army's proposed permit modifications for closure of its Johnston (or, Kalama) Island chemical weapons incinerator are not protective of workers or government employees who may live on the Island in the future. The groups also warn that incinerator Closure and Island clean up activities could experience cost overruns, negative duplication of efforts, and lower safety standards unless greater cooperation between the military branches and government agencies is established.
The Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG) and the Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons Citizens Coalition (Coalition) on Monday filed their comments to the Army's proposed Closure Plan for the Johnston Island incinerator with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in San Francisco. The incinerator, called the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Destruction System (JACADS), has been burning chemical weapons stored on the Island, 700 miles southwest of Hawaii, since 1990. The facility's operational history includes releases of live chemical agent out the smokestack, numerous accidents resulting from incinerator design flaws and plant modifications, cost escalation and significant schedule overruns.
With the Army's completion of disposal of the Island's chemical weapons stockpile comes the arduous task of dismantling the incinerator, destroying or decontaminating all chemical weapons-related materials, and working with other military agencies to clean up other contaminated portions of the Island. The Island will eventually be turned over to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which plans to maintain the area as a wildlife sanctuary. While the national grassroots groups and local Pacific environmental justice organizations support clean up of the Island, they say the Army's Closure Plan is grossly insufficient. Principle concerns outlined in the comments are that
1) the Army's intent to clean up the Island to "industrial" rather than "residential" standards is not protective of future resident government and agency employees and their families, nor of the Island's threatened and endangered bird and marine mammal species;
2) plans to abandon use of "real time" monitoring for chemical agents during Closure activities puts current Island workers at risk, as chemical agent accidents may go unnoticed for hours; and
3) the incineration or thermal treatment of chemical demilitarization wastes such as carbon filters, plastic protective suits and other items is unsafe and may result in the release of dioxins and heavy metals.
Poka Laenui, of the Pacific Asia Council of Indigenous Peoples in Hawaii said, "The concept of cleaning up Kalama Island to an industrial level is ludicrous. Kalama Island should be cleaned to the extent that a government employee's child can run bare-footed over that ground, and consume fish, seaweed and shelled creatures from the atoll waters without fear of any negative health effect. For the sake of future inhabitants and on the principles of environmental justice, the Island deserves nothing less."
Elizabeth Crowe of the CWWG and the Non-Stockpile Coalition noted that on May 4 of this year, the National Research Council chemical weapons stockpile committee issued a "letter report" calling for increased coordination among the Army, Air Force and other government stakeholders in Island clean up. Crowe agrees that such coordination is important to raise standards in clean up efforts, streamline decision making, and keep costs in check. JACADS Closure alone is expected to cost around $300 million and take close to three years to complete.
However, Crowe said, "For the Army to shortchange safe Closure and clean-up activities because of its own poor planning and lack of agency coordination is unacceptable. There is still time for the Army, other military stakeholders and government agencies to conduct clean up of Kalama Island in a safe, responsible manner."
CWWG and Coalition's comments to EPA will be available here tomorrow. Check back then.
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