The permit that allows the Radford Army Ammunitions Plant to burn hazardous waste from firearms outdoors is up for renewal. Community activists see an opportunity to address environmental and health concerns about the open burning – and state regulators see a chance to explore new technology to solve an old problem.
Just a handful of people turned at the Blacksburg Public Library on a recent afternoon for a meeting of the Environmental Patriots of the New River Valley.
“Is there anything we could post to get more people involved? Yes, petitions, a letter campaign… When the EPA was pushed to the wall in Louisiana, they said ‘Uncle.’ So, we want you Senator Kaine and you Senator Warner to do just what Senator Vitter did in Louisiana and write to the EPA and ask them, ‘How is this not a violation of the clean air act?’”
Devawn Oberlender is looking to take a pager from the book of a far away town, where citizen protestors succeeded in stopping outdoor burning explosives of arms and weapons waste at the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant.
“The opportunity that we have right now only comes up very ten years, because the permit is good for ten years, so what we need to replicate is what they did in north western Louisiana at Camp Minden.
There they formed a “Stop the Burn” movement that ultimately brought together elected officials, state and local regulators and the army for a plan to give up open burning and use a modern indoor incinerator to dispose of the toxic materials. Now, with the open burning permit at the Radford Arsenal up for renewal, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is exploring that idea for the first time. William Hayden is spokesman for DEQ in Virginia.
“We have not reached any conclusions yet but that is something that would be looked at as we move forward. We have asked the Arsenal to come up with alternatives to open burning and we do expect to have some options that go beyond the idea of just burning it the open.”
Brian Salvatore is a professor of Organic chemistry at Louisiana State University who argued for using contained incineration.
“This is what we fought for here at camp Minden. And yes it added another 15million dollars and almost doubled the cost of the contract but this was something that, the EPA was willing to go to bat for us for. So I’m glad that the people in the EPA and in the state worked together here and they worked with the Army as well to find the additional money. And we’re quite satisfied here that this alternative — which, in the beginning of this we didn’t know all the details of what these modern incinerators can do. We’re quite confident here that this is going to do the job and the amount of material that’s going to be released total will be on the order of tens of grams as opposed to tons of these emissions.”
A spokesman for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Region 3, which includes Virginia, said it could not comment on the possibility of incinerators like that being adopted at the Radford site, but a spokesperson for BAE Systems, the contractor in charge of the arsenal, confirmed it is “looking for viable alternatives to its current methods of waste disposal.”
The department of Environmental Quality has asked BAE to conduct an environmental impact study on its current open burning practice. William Hayden says it’s the first time DEQ has asked for one.
“Because we’re getting in to an issue that has generated a lot of public interest in the Radford area we knew that the more information we had, the better. People from the public have been asking for us information; they’ve been asking Radford (the arsenal) for information.”
And one of them is Oberlender who says, “We’ve been burning waste out there, open burning it since 1941. You know, it’s not going away.”
And neither are the environmental patriots of the new river valley. Taking another page from the story of Camp Minden Louisiana’s successful effort to get its outdoor burning moved indoors. They’re scheduling meetings with state and federal officials to keep the pressure on. The first is this Friday with U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith who sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, which has oversight of the EPA. The group is looking to make a national issue out of one that has for so long been so local and one of the few places where open burning of hazardous waste from explosives is still allowed.
Info from: http://wvtf.org/post/moving-forward-open-burning