By Bill Robinson
PAINT LICK —
The public has until Wednesday to submit comments on the environmental assessment conducted on the proposed use of enclosed explosive detonation technology to destroy about 15,000 problematic rounds of mustard agent weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
The assessment was made public June 25, and members of the community were invited to hear a presentation, ask questions and make comments Tuesday night at Eastern Kentucky University’s Perkins Building.
Most of the nearly 40 people in attendance were there in some official capacity, but a lively round of discussion took place between the lay audience and professionals who represented the Army and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Based on experience with efforts to destroy similar weapons at other depots, as well as x-rays of those stored here, the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative (ACWA) believes the mustard agent rounds cannot be destroy by the multi-billion dollar plant being built at the depot, said Jeff Brubaker, the government’s project manager.
The mustard agent has crystalized inside the defective rounds and their explosive bursters can be removed only with great difficulty, Brubaker said. If sent through the automated plant that will destroy the vast majority of the chemical weapons, including all the nerve agent weapons, they could jam the system, he explained. That would require sending personnel into the plant to remove the defective rounds, at great risk of exposure to the chemical agents and/or explosives.
Explosive detonation technology, which exploded the mustard round inside steel chambers at other sites, has a long history of use by private industry, said Craig Williams of the independent Chemical Weapons Working Group, who also is co-chair of the official Chemical Destruction Citizen’s Advisory Board.
About 2,300 rounds were destroyed without incident using EDT at the Anniston, Ala., Army depot, he said.
As many as seven EDT chambers could be set up on less than six acres at the depot if the technology is used, said Jon Ware, an environmental scientist at ACWA headquarters in Aberdeen, Md.
All of the mustard rounds could be destroyed in about 38 weeks, he said, and no sound or vibration from the operation should be noticeable outside the depot.
Despite EDT having been successfully used to destroy other materials, state law requires that any technology used to destroy chemical weapons be demonstrated to pose no environmental danger in regular use before it can be permitted for that purpose in Kentucky, said Dr. George Partridge, an engineer with the state Division of Waste Management. Partridge works for a group in state environmental agency which has oversight of the depot’s operations.
Its use would be subject to approval by the state agency, which has a special section assigned to monitor BGAD operations, he said.
EDT is also being considered for use in destroying mustard weapons from the same manufacturing lot as those stored at a depot in Pueblo, Colo., the federal officials said. The mustard rounds stored here should be the last in the American stockpile, although random small numbers of unaccounted-for weapons could be discovered elsewhere.
EDT has “an excellent record” of capturing treated gases generated by the controlled explosions, Partridge said. But while the environmental assessment “very adequately” addressed local air quality impact, he believes data used in the study is less clear with regard to cumulative national impact, he said.
Comments may be submitted via the ACWA website noted above, may be emailed to osd.APG.email@example.com, may be faxed to 410-436-6026 or mailed to Program Executive Office, ACWA, 5183 Blackhawk Road, ATTN: SFAE-ACW-RM, Aberdeen Proving Ground, MD 21010-5424.
The environmental assessment and other supporting documents may be found on the ACWA website at www.peoacwa.army.mil and at:
• Richmond Branch, Madison County Public Library, 507 W. Main St.
• Berea Branch, Madison County Public Library, 319 Chestnut St.
• Crabbe Library, Eastern Kentucky University, 521 Lancaster Ave.
• Hutchins Library, Berea College, 100 Campus Dr.