The U.S. Army has agreed to stop shipments of VX nerve gas wastewater to Port Arthur until a federal judge hears the case.

In May, a Port Arthur organization and other environmental groups filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of the Southern District of Indiana against Veolia Environmental Services and the U.S. Department of the Army opposing the incineration of wastewater from neutralized VX gas at a Port Arthur facility.

The Army agreed June 18 to stop the shipments at least until a preliminary hearing date is set. The parties discussed the issue June 19 and a hearing date is set tentatively for July 16 before U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney in Terre Haute, Ind.

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

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 the May 8 lawsuit. The suit requested an injunction to stop the shipments.

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 pollution-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."

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. They want the shipments stopped long enough to allow more studies on the transportation and incineration of the wastewater.

Port Arthur Mayor Oscar Ortiz supports the Veolia project as a way to bring millions of tax dollars into the community.

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