Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Innocent Have Nothing to Fear

The DoD’s plan to dump millions of gallons of hydrolyzed VX nerve gas in the Delaware River has generated a lot of debate. If I recall the issue correctly, there are several concerns. First, there’s the question of whether it’s wise to dump several million gallons of caustic liquid into an important river.

Next, the hydrolysate may or may not contain cadmium, a well-known bioaccumulative poison. It will probably contain harmful trace amounts of VX; the EPA apparently ignores concentrations below 20ppb, which – unless I’m mistaken - is still high enough to kill fish. And it may also contain traces of an environmentally persistent toxic byproduct called EA2192.

The other issues are transportation and plant safety. The Army wants to send the hydrolysate from Indiana to New Jersey by truck, via Interstate 80. Once in New Jersey, the hydrolysate would receive secondary treatment before being dumped in the river. In 2006, the DuPont facility chosen for this job paid $200,000 in fines for “environmental and safety failings” (including, by an odd coincidence, contamination of the Delaware River).

I think it’s fair to say that the plan is controversial. Which is why it’s appalling – though not surprising – to learn that the DoD doesn’t want the General Accounting Office to assess its plans:

The Defense Department is urging House and Senate defense committee leaders to eliminate language from the pending defense authorization bill that would prohibit the Army from transporting chemical agent waste from an Indiana site to a commercial disposal facility in New Jersey until congressional auditors review the Army's disposal decisions.
Why? Because 9/11 changed everything, that’s why:
DOD in the appeal says it "made the decision to utilize off-site commercial treatment, storage, and disposal facilities for treatment and disposal of hydrolysate from [Newport] after the terrorist attack on the U.S. on September 11, 2001, to expedite the elimination of the chemical weapons stockpile based on a risk analysis for an incident occurring in [Newport] storage….
It’s funny how the threat of terrorism mandated this plan…but didn’t mandate securing New Jersey’s chemical plants, or Indian Point Nuclear Plant. It’s also funny to imagine how hysterical people would get if an al-Qaeda sleeper cell poured a few million gallons of caustic liquid contaminated with nerve gas, nerve gas byproducts, and toxic metal into an American river.

But that’s neither here nor there. If, as we hear so often these days, the innocent have nothing to fear, then there’s no reason for the DoD to object to a review by the GAO.


Dee said...

First, there’s the question of whether it’s wise to dump several million gallons of caustic liquid into an important river.

What kind of question is that?

Any reasonable, thinking person would say right away "golly, I don't think that would be a wise thing to do."

Seen many reasonable, thinking people lately?

Engineer-Poet said...

It's insane to ship that stuff by truck and dump it in a river, when it would be far cheaper to ship it by barge and dump it in the ocean.  Indiana and Chicago both have port facilities on or connected to Lake Michigan and/or the Mississippi.

I'll bet the trucking company has connections.

Phila said...


What kind of question is that?

An ironic one.


I'll bet the trucking company has connections.

Could be. Though I think the larger issue might be that the DuPont plant in NJ has connections. At least, that's what I'm assuming.

But yeah, even if one were to assume that the hydrolysate were completely harmless, this does seem like a pretty roundabout way to get rid of it.