Non-Stockpile Disposal Program Getting Underway
(The following is excerpted from the April 1997 issue of "Common Sense", the newsletter of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, published by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.)
In addition to the 30,000 tons of chemical weapons stored at nine sites, non-stockpile weapons are scattered over 200 sites at military bases throughout the country. They consist of weapons such as land mines and projectiles, ton containers filled with chemical agent or residues, and chemical agent identification sets, which were used by military personnel for training exercises. Many non-stockpile sites are contaminated because the weapons have been improperly disposed of such as by open-pit burning or dumping in creeks and rivers even if the weapons themselves are no longer there. After so many years of neglect, the identification, recovery and disposal of non-stockpile weapons is going to be a big chore.
Over ten years ago, the Army began visiting communities near chemical weapons stockpile sites, asking for public comment on its "Environmental Impact Statement" for the disposal program. The Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), analyzed the risks of various disposal options, and stated the Army's rationale for choosing incineration as the only technology capable of chemical weapons disposal. Despite receiving volumes of comments from community stakeholders against incineration, the Army proceeded down that path. The Army intended to use incineration no matter what the public thought. Now, as the Army begins drafting an EIS for non-stockpile chemical weapons, it looks like history will be repeating itself: one of the methods being considered for non-stockpile disposal is "on-site thermal destruction," that is, incineration.
Other disposal options, as listed in an information paper distributed by the Army, are:
1) on-site chemical treatment with off-site destruction of the wastes by thermal destruction or another disposal method;
2) on-site chemical treatment and on-site destruction/disposal of chemical treatment wastes;
3) off-site chemical treatment and/or thermal destruction or another disposal method; and
4) no action.
The Army estimates that completion of the non-stockpile program could take 40 years, and cost over $15 billion. Much work has already been done on the program. The recovery of weapons has already begun in New Jersey, Alaska, Mississippi, Utah, Colorado and Maryland. Several changes have taken place over the years that are favorable to the argument for safe weapons disposal, that should be included in the non-stockpile EIS. Our knowledge about dangerous incinerator emissions, such as dioxins, has increased. There are now a number of non-incineration "closed-loop" technologies which could safely destroy most non-stockpile weapons. The General Accounting Office estimates that the Army's portable closed-loop system, called the Munitions Management Device, may be ready to detoxify explosive and non-explosive chemical weapons as early as 1998 or 1999. Also, several models for effective public participation (offering more than just the opportunity to comment) exist and could be applied to this program.
There is still time for change before the non-stockpile program goes any further. Hopefully the Army will prove us wrong, and do things differently this time around.
Source: General Accounting Office, 1997
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