Judge's decision pending on VX waste shipments

Marilyn Tennissen Jul. 19, 2007, 7:47am

Environmental groups opposing the incineration of nerve gas wastewater at a local facility are now waiting for a federal judge to decide if the U.S. Army must permanently stop the shipments to Port Arthur.

U.S. District Chief Judge Larry J. McKinney conducted three days of hearings July 16-18 in the Southern District of Indiana over a lawsuit against Veolia Environmental Services and the U.S. Department of the Army opposing the incineration of wastewater from neutralized VX gas at Veolia's Port Arthur facility.

Veolia has a $49 million federal contract to destroy almost 2 million gallons of the wastewater.

The VX is turned into wastewater at Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Newport, Ind. and tested for any activity before being shipped to Texas. Arriving at Veolia, the hydrolysate is compressed out of tanker trucks with nitrogen into holding tanks where mixed with water and other low toxicity chemicals to create a blend for incineration.

Veolia and the Army say the water is caustic, but not a threat to public health or safety.

The Community In-Power Development Organization, a Port Arthur group founded by Hilton Kelley, said no one in the community had been told the possibly toxic material was being brought their neighborhood. CIDA was joined by The Sierra Club, the Chemical Weapons Working Group, Citizens Against Incineration at Newport and other Port Arthur plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed May 8. The suit requested an injunction to stop the shipments.

The shipments were stopped in June pending the hearings in Terre Haute, Ind., and will not resume until Judge McKinney issues a written opinion from the hearings.

Kelley and the other plaintiffs claim that the Port Arthur area already has toxic levels of contaminates in the air from the nearby petrochemical facilities and are now concerned about the emissions from the Veolia waste incinerator.

The opponents say the military has not sufficiently studied the danger that an accident or terrorist attack could mean to residents along the 1,000-mile route from Indiana to Southeast Texas. They want the shipments stopped long enough to allow more studies on the transportation and incineration of the wastewater.

Many community leaders in Southeast Texas supported the Veolia project as a way to bring millions of tax dollars into the area.

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