Release of Mercury and other Contaminants will Pose Hazard to Environment, Communities

(Washington D.C.) – Yesterday afternoon, the Government Accountability Project (GAP) on behalf of a coalition of individuals and nonprofit groups filed a lawsuit in Multnomah County Circuit Court challenging the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission’s recent decision to allow the incineration of secondary wastes at the U.S. Army’s Umatilla Chemical Demilitarization Facility (UMCF) located near Hermiston, Oregon. Secondary wastes include plastic protective suits, contaminated carbon filter materials and other byproducts of the incineration activities at UMCDF. The lawsuit also asks the Court to order the State to make a determination of the best available technology for the disposal of mustard agent (HD). More than 60 percent of the chemical warfare agent stockpile at the Army’s Umatilla facility is bulk-stored mustard agent. The lawsuit follows on the heels of an April 2007 decision by the Court which required the State agencies to make new findings about the best available technologies for the disposal of secondary wastes and mercury-contaminated mustard agent.

The lawsuit was filed against both the Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) and Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), agencies charged with overseeing the disposal of the chemical agents. Under the Court’s previous ruling, these two agencies were to conduct a review of “best available technologies” in order to determine the best method of disposing of secondary wastes and HD (mustard agent). Alternative technologies to incineration that release significantly less contaminants have been developed for both types of wastes and will be used at the Army’s Blue Grass (in Kentucky) and Pueblo (in Colorado) facilities.

Oregon law is unique in demanding that the method of chemical agent (i.e., hazardous waste) disposal be the “best available technology” for doing so. Other methods of HD disposal with a much lower risk for environmental and community exposure to mercury and other contaminants exist. For example, the Aberdeen Proving Ground facility in Maryland destroyed 1,800 tons of mustard agent in recent years by a “neutralization” method which utilizes mixing the agent with boiling water and bacteria.

“The State has been aware for years of the availability of neutralization to safely and quickly destroy mustard agent and has stubbornly refused to consider the option because the environmental agencies are heavily influenced if not controlled by the Army and its contractors”, said GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit. “The timely assessment of best available technology that the Court was expecting has not happened.”

Petitioners identified on the lawsuit include G.A.S.P. (a nonprofit watchdog focusing on UMCF safety), the Sierra Club, the Oregon Wildlife Federation, and several individuals who live, work, or recreate near the facility

Karyn Jones, one such petitioner, stated “The DEQ and EQC have once again failed to do their job in this process so we have had to ask the Court to intervene. The agencies continue to claim that incineration of the secondary waste and HD mustard agent doesn’t pose a significant health risk to local residents. I don’t know how they can do that when in reality the health risk assessment still hasn’t been completed in over ten years.”

UMCF is tasked with safely disposing several types of chemical warfare agents, including HD, VX (nerve agent) and GB (a nerve agent that is also known as sarin). Altogether, UMCD has stored 12 percent of the total amount of chemical warfare agents in the United States. In 1985, the United States signed onto the Chemical Weapons Convention, a treaty which requires safe disposal of all chemical agents by 2007 (an extension to 2012 was later granted).