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TOP STORY: Dumping VX Toxins in the Delaware River

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posted on Apr, 20 2004 @ 06:02 PM


WHAT: A fast-acting, lethal nerve agent developed for land mines, spray tanks and rockets. Produced between 1961 and 1968 by FMC Corp. at a Newport, Ind., plant.

EFFECT: A fraction of a drop can disrupt nerve signals in the human body, causing loss of muscle control, respiratory paralysis and death.

REMAINING U.S. VX STOCKPILE: More than 1,200 tons held in more than 1,600 steel containers.

Delaware News Journal

Millions of pounds of treated waste from a deadly nerve agent could soon pass through a DuPont Co. complex at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey. The proposed project is part of a federal program to reduce the nation's chemical-weapons stockpiles.

The Army is scheduled to decide later this month whether to approve a plan to ship the wastes from Indiana to DuPont's Chambers Works plant in Deepwater, N.J., for final treatment. The prospect has drawn questions from environmental groups in Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Some of the groups contend DuPont's treatment plan poses potential risks to the Delaware River, a waterway that state officials believe has a toxic pollution problem.

DuPont already is conducting treatment trials on wastes from the deadly nerve agent VX at the company's Chambers Works Secure Environmental Treatment unit, along the Delaware.

"While the treatability study is continuing, the results we have today show us we're going to be able to treat it effectively and safely," said John Strait, Chambers Works plant manager.

The Chambers Works unit, one of the world's largest industrial wastewater treatment plants, had trouble fully treating similar material from the same nerve-weapon stockpile in Indiana in tests during the mid-1990s, according to DuPont and an official at the Army's Newport Chemical Depot. But treatment methods have improved since then, they said.

The Army last month dropped a plan to send the same wastes to a Dayton, Ohio, treatment system. A consultant hired by Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, said proposed treatment methods for the waste need more testing and monitoring to determine whether they pose a risk to people and the environment.

"Why is the Delaware Valley rushing to put their arms around something that was just stopped cold in Ohio?" asked John Kearney, who represents the Clean Air Council in Delaware.

Strait said DuPont's system is expected to render all of the wastes harmless. The same plant already has treated a different mix of chemicals formed during neutralization of mustard gas stockpiled at a military installation in Aberdeen, Md.

Liquid VX ranks among the military's most lethal chemical weapons, with a fraction of a drop on the skin likely to be fatal.

Bruce A. Rittmann, a civil, chemical and biological engineer at Northwestern University, said minute traces of VX and another nerve agent could remain in the neutralized wastes, which are highly toxic. Rittmann evaluated the waste treatment for Montgomery County and said some of the wastes could have passed unchanged through the Ohio operation.

"Given the threat to the environment and community, I think all the questions need to be answered and the answers need to be public. That's just my personal opinion," Rittmann said. "This is not just a run-of-the-mill industrial waste treatment scenario. This is really special, high-risk stuff and its handling deserves full public scrutiny."

Terry L. Arthur, public affairs officer for the Army's Newport Chemical Depot and Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, said the military would decide after Jan. 21 if it will ship the neutralized VX for waste treatment. The work is part of an estimated $300 million contract managed by Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group Inc., a California-based company.

"Our goal is to eliminate the risks to the community," Arthur said. "Since 9/11, folks have been worried about the potential for a terrorist attack" targeting chemical weapons stockpiles.

Only minute traces of VX and another less-deadly nerve agent would remain in neutralized wastes shipped off for treatment, an Army official said. The Army plan would bar shipments of wastes containing more than 20 parts per billion of VX. By comparison, one part per billion is equal to about a drop in a swimming pool.

Containers of the waste would be shipped by both rail and truck, along routes yet to be determined.

Past concerns about the waste, cited in government documents and public debates in the Midwest, include an offensive, skunk-like odor and a slight risk that the VX could spontaneously reform in the broken down wastes.

DuPont has said it plans to pretreat the wastes when they arrive to reduce the odors. That process also would reduce levels of a compound that plays a part in VX reformation, the company said.

Several environmental organizations say DuPont needs to answer more questions about environmental risks along the river.

Delaware's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control has in the past asked the Environmental Protection Agency to have the river listed as "impaired" based on signs of chronic toxic pollutants, a move that could restrict any new toxic wastewater releases to the river. DuPont opposed the designation during state and EPA reviews. Studies of the issue are continuing.

Three environmental groups - Green Delaware, the Sierra Club Delaware chapter and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network - said they were concerned about the project.

"There's a moral obligation and a corporate obligation to let us know what's going on, and don't do it in little one-on-one meetings," said Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. "Have a big public meeting and let everybody know. Put the information out and seek public comment and input."

MORE info in the link...

im wondering if people are gunna realize this and change it...

[Edited on 20-4-2004 by they see ALL]

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