Army Agrees to Temporarily Stop Shipment of Nerve Agent Waste to Texas
An incredible victory for protecting public health and the environment occurred this week as the U.S. Army agreed to temporarily suspend shipments of extremely toxic VX warfare agent by-products to Texas from Indiana while the federal court in Terre Haute, Indiana sets a date for an Injunction Hearing on the matter. Citizens groups including CLEAN, joined by two national organizations - the Sierra Club and the Chemical Weapons Working Group were instrumental in this 'stand-down' by the Army.
The Army began trucking this uniquely hazardous material out of the Newport Indiana Depot to be burned in the low-income minority community of Port Arthur, Texas, in the dead of night on April 16 without making the shipments generally known in any of the affected states. Subsequently, on May 8 citizens filed suit against the shipments after requests to stop the transportation were ignored by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Indiana State Police, federal and state elected officials in both Indiana and Texas.
The suit emphasized that the risks associated with transporting the VX waste were not fully recognized, primarily due to inadequate analysis of the concentrations of VX nerve agent and other deadly compounds, including Experimental Agent (EA) 2192 in the tankers hauling the material through portions of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.
Of an estimated two million gallons of the waste, known as VX hydrolysate (VXH), approximately 375,000 gallons have already been shipped. How much of that has been burned in Port Arthur to date is unknown. 'This is a critical situation here in Port Arthur,' said Hilton Kelly, Director of the local Community In-Power Development Association. 'Not only was the community not notified before this operation began, but the risks associated with this material continue to be held secret by the Army and Veolia Environmental Services, the company accepting and burning this waste.'
According to Dr. Michael Sommer II (CLEAN), Mr. Kelly's dismay at the secrecy is well founded. Dr. Sommer, a Houston-based expert in forensic environmental chemistry said in his declaration submitted with today's TRO motion, 'The proposed analytical test methods the Army developed to assure complete neutralization of the VX are wholly inadequate to ensure protection of public health and the environment.'
Dr. Neil Carman, a former environmental regulatory official for the Texas Air Control Board (now the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality), also points out that no trial burns are even being done at the Veolia incinerator to determine the effectiveness of burning this material, the VXH will be mixed with other waste without identifying the combination of chemicals emitted. It is also a clear case of environmental injustice. 'Environmental justice in Port Arthur-Golden Triangle Gulf Coast region is a serious concern due to the minority demographics, significant numbers of low income families close to or in poverty', said Carman in his declaration submitted to the court today.
Chemical Weapons Working Group Director, Craig Williams noted that during the Army's attempts to ship this same material to Ohio and then New Jersey, citizens repeatedly requested to have the process opened up for an independent review of the sampling and analysis process, but such requests were ignored or refused. This has left little recourse for citizens other than litigation in an effort to protect the communities affected by the shipment and incineration of the VXH.
'In addition,' said Williams, 'these shipments violate federal law barring interstate transportation of chemical weapons as defined in the Chemical Weapons Treaty which this material clearly falls into.'