SE Texas Record

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

PA group takes on Army over nerve gas wastewater shipment

By Marilyn Tennissen | May 10, 2007

A Port Arthur environmental organization is taking on the Department of Defense and the U.S. Army to try to stop shipments of nerve gas wastewater from coming to Southeast Texas.

Last month, Veolia Environmental Services began to receive wastewater from neutralized VX nerve gas that it planned to incinerate at its Port Arthur facility. The company has a $49 million federal contract to destroy almost 2 million of gallons of the wastewater.

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.

On May 8, CIDA and Kelley were joined by The Sierra Club, the Chemical Weapons Working Group, Citizens Against Incineration at Newport and other Port Arthur plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Indiana. Named as defendants are Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of the Army Pete Geren, the U.S. Department of Defense, The U.S. Department of the Army and Veolia Environmental Services Inc.

Kelley claims 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.

"He and other community members are concerned that transporting the Newport Army Chemical Depot VX hydrolysate to his community would worsen existing pollultion-related health problems in Port Arthur," the plaintiffs' original petition states. "He is concerned that VX nerve agent hydrolysate has never been incinerated anywhere, much less in the city of Port Arthur."

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.

The blend is then sent through closed pipelines to the 1,400 degree incinerator where the gas elements of the wastewater are separated out and sent to a secondary combustion unit where it is heated further to 2,100 degrees. There most of the organic compounds are incinerated.

Ashes from the incinerator are the only solid product that remains and those are shipped to a hazardous material landfill in Lake Charles, La.

But Kelley and other plaintiffs 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.

The plaintiffs are asking a federal judge to stop the shipments to Port Arthur long enough to allow more studies on the transportation and incineration of the wastewater.

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