The reckless, poorly planned destruction of our useless chemical weapons continues to be far more of a threat to our well-being than a foreign CW attack ever was:
A process to destroy stockpiles of the nerve agent VX may not completely remove the presence of the deadly chemical set for ultimate disposal at the DuPont Chambers Works in Salem County, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study due for release today concludes.The process in question - which I've discussed elsewhere in regards to mustard gas - is alkaline hydrolysis. In the case of nerve gas, the hydrolysate - the generic term for the end product of hydrolysis - would ideally (for lack of a better word) be a caustic solution of sodium hydroxide with phosphorus and sulfur compounds. Unfortunately, it looks like we may end up with something far worse:
"There is the possibility of trace elements of VX nerve agent in the hydrolysate," U.S. Rep. Robert Andrews, D-1st Dist., of Haddon Heights, said following a CDC briefing Tuesday....Andrews suggested the Army and DuPont "are not sure" if there will be trace elements of VX in the hydrolysate.This bit is just weird. Cadmium metal isn't caustic, and phosphonic acid is a weak corrosive at best. I assume this comes from confusion on the part of the author, but this is a fairly important subject, and it's not that hard to get the facts straight.
The CDC expressed concerns about the presence of such metals as cadmium and phosphonic acids -- caustics -- in the hydrolysate.
"No one has studied what the effect of these caustics are on the river and on health," Andrews suggested.Again, the author makes it unclear what Andrews is talking about. If he's talking about cadmium, what he's saying is not true at all. The toxicity of cadmium is well known, and there've been many studies on its ecotoxicity and bioaccumulation (in water, particularly). For instance, here's a study on its toxicity to the water-flea Daphnia magna. And here's another, on the freshwater gastropod Biomphalaria glabrata. And here's one more, on the ringed seal. If there's cadmium in the hydrolysate, I'd call that a serious problem whether or not there are also trace amounts of VX. Unfortunately, I can't find the CDC report online, so I have no idea whether the worries over cadmium are justified.
If the Army will be hydrolysing 1200 tons of VX, it's going to end up with a much, much larger volume of hydrolysate (4 million gallons, by one estimate). Putting aside VX or cadmium content, that's an awful lot of caustic material. The Army's current cut-off level for VX detection is, I believe, 20ppb; according to the EPA, that's still sufficient to kill fish as large as striped bass.
Perhaps more important is the question of the hydrolysis byproduct EA2192:
The information provided by the Army to residents did not list EA2192 in its description of the hydrolysate compound....However, a 1998 report by the Commission on Engineering and Technical Systems, a division of the National Academies of Science, says "Because EA-2192 retains a phosphorus-sulfur bond, its toxicity is only slightly reduced from the toxicity of VX."There's more technical info on the toxicity and persistence of EA2192 here. While the current hydrolysis process seems to reduce EA2192 considerably, it looks to me as though trace amounts may still be present. My opinion, for what little it's worth, is this: We'd be much better off not dumping thousands of tons of VX hydrolysate in the Delaware River. But then, you knew that already!
Meanwhile, in Colorado, the Pentagon continues to drag its feet on destroying 280,000 mustard-gas shells:
[L]ast week, the Pentagon official in charge of the disposal program, Patrick Wakefield, had the audacity to claim that Pueblo was being delayed due to budget overruns. He further said the project won't get any money next year - and, in fact, full demolition of its munitions will be delayed until 2021, nine years after the deadline.
The delay is clearly unacceptable, as is Wakefield's explanation. The six incineration projects Wakefield favors elsewhere in the country will cost more than $4 billion each, and all are far behind schedule.