Judge rules in favor of Army in PA group's suit over nerve gas waste disposal

Marilyn Tennissen Sep. 29, 2008, 10:55am

Veolia incineration facility in Port Arthur

After suing the U.S. Army on claims that shipments of nerve gas waste water to Port Arthur posed a threat to area residents, a local environmental group has had its suit thrown out by a U.S. District Court judge.

On Sept. 22, Chief Judge Larry J. McKinney of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis ruled in favor of the Army, granting the Army's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the suit on all counts.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported last year, Port Arthur's Community In-Power Development Association, led by Hilton Kelley, filed a federal lawsuit in May 2007 soon after shipments of waste water from VX nerve gas began arriving from Indiana at an incineration facility in Port Arthur.

CIDA was joined by the Sierra Club, the Chemical Weapons Working Group and other plaintiffs in the suit, alleging the transportation and incineration of the neutralized Cold War-era nerve agent was still dangerous to humans and the environment and that the Army had understated the risks.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, U.S. Army Secretary Pete Geren, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Department of the Army and Veolia Environmental Services were all named as defendants.

According to a Sept. 25 press release from the Army, McKinney's ruling confirmed the Army's position that the litigation raised no genuine issues to be tried. The ruling followed an earlier court decision that denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt ongoing shipments of the waste water in an Aug. 3, 2007, ruling.

"Judge McKinney's ruling confirms, once again, that safety is and remains the cornerstone of the Army's chemical weapons disposal program," said Conrad F. Whyne, director of the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, in a statement. "This ruling and summary judgment should demonstrate that the Army and its many partners in this program - Parsons, Veolia Environmental Services and Tri-State Motor Transit - conduct the program with every attention paid to safeguarding our workers, our communities and our environment."

Judge McKinney ruled in the Army's favor on all counts.

VX was turned into wastewater at Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Newport, Ind., and tested for any activity before being shipped to the Veolia facility in Port Arthur where it is then incinerated.

The court ruled that the caustic waste water, known as hydrolysate, is a hazardous waste, not a munition or chemical agent, and that the Army adequately considered the other risks inherent in the transportation of the wastes to Texas for ultimate disposal.

"Judge McKinney's ruling validates what we have said all along, that this was our best disposal option for the Newport hydrolysate and that the disposal option was safe," said Col. Robert B. Billington, Program Manager for Chemical Stockpile Elimination at CMA.

"The court's ruling shows, beyond a doubt, that our collective efforts take seriously our mission to destroy this material in a safe manner that protects all," Whyne continued. "When the facts are presented as they were in Judge McKinney's court room last July, it becomes readily evident that the Army has dedicated the resources, time and personnel required to accomplish our mission safely."

CMA began shipping the Newport hydrolysate to Veolia in April 2007. In June 2007, the Army voluntarily stopped shipments pending a July hearing in Judge McKinney's court.

Judge McKinney ruled against the plaintiffs in August and the Army resumed hydrolysate shipments shortly thereafter.

The last of the Newport stockpile was destroyed earlier this month and Veolia expects the final incineration to be completed by early October.

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