The nerve gas hydrolysate that was supposed to have been dumped into the Delaware River now seems to be headed for Port Arthur, Texas.
Mitch Osborne of Veolia Environmental Services, which won the $49 million contract, explains why local residents should rejoice:
“What will be shipped to Port Arthur is only a moderate hazard,” Osborne said. “The wastewater contains absolutely no VX. It has a high pH and an odor like a skunk because of the sulfur. But the odor is harmless….It differs very little from the wide variety of hazardous wastes managed safely at the Veolia incinerator on a daily basis.”Nicely put, eh? Osborne should probably use some of that $49 million to hire a PR person.
Incidentally, the wastewater contains less than 20 ppb of VX. You can debate whether or not that’s a safe level, but you can’t call it “absolutely no VX.”
Veolia’s an interesting company. It’s a spin-off of Vivendi, a French company that’s very well known to people who follow the debates over water privatization and media conglomeration; Public Citizen has evocatively described it as “swirling in a maelstrom of corporate corruption and chaos.”
Apparently, its deal with the Army was reached in secret:
The Veolia deal follows two previous disposal plans — by Perma-Fix Environmental Services Inc., in Dayton, Ohio, and DuPont Co. in Deepwater, N.J. — that were scuttled by strong opposition...after the Army publicly announced its intent to contract with the two companies. But that didn't happen in the case with Veolia.Another lesson learned, I'm guessing, has to do with the relative political clout of locals. Port Arthur is predominantly black; whites make up a mere twenty percent of its population. By an odd coincidence, it’s also one of the most polluted towns in America:
"Let's call it lessons learned," said Army spokesman Greg Mahall.
Port Arthur ranks high in just about every national pollution statistic -- the city and surrounding county are among the top 10 percent for major chemical releases; environmental cancer risk; levels of carcinogens; and levels of toxins that interfere with fetal development.Which is ideal, since any problems the hydrolysate causes – and to be fair, it may not cause any - will be a drop in the bucket.
While we’re on the subject, the LA Times has an illuminating article on the siting of toxic facilities in minority neighborhoods:
EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood said the agency recognizes "that minority and/or low-income communities frequently may be disproportionately and adversely exposed to environmental harms and risks," and that the EPA attempts to address environmental justice concerns in its planning and budgeting….That said:
President Bush's 2008 budget recommends a 28% cut in funds for such programs….I’m glad to see that Don Imus lost his job for insulting young black people. Perhaps someday we'll stop allowing people to poison them.