Journalists Can Only Attend on “Background”; 
Depot in Middle of Waste Disposal, Mercury Release Lawsuit

(Washington, D.C.) – The Oregon Environmental Quality Commission (EQC) has announced a nonpublic teleconference/meeting to be held tomorrow, January 8, 2007, concerning chemical agent waste issues at the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, located near Hermiston, OR. The EQC was challenged in a lawsuit filed by GAP in November for its decision to allow the incineration of secondary wastes at Umatilla, along with seeking a court order for the State to make a determination of the ‘best available technology’ for the disposal of mustard agent (HD). Incineration of the HD, the current plan, would probably result in the release of significant amounts of harmful mercury and other dangerous contaminates into the surrounding environment.

In addition to not allowing concerned citizens to attend or listen in on these important issues being discussed, the EQC announced that journalists may only attend the meeting “for background purposes only,” according to the press release from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. Effectively, this means that citizens are shut out from voicing concerns, or more importantly, hearing the rationale behind potentially critical decisions being made by the EQC regarding the destruction of these dangerous materials. The decision has some critics questioning the process.

“With an issue as critical as determining the best means of destroying significant components of the hazardous wastes at UMCDF, the public has a right to know what officials plan to do,” stated GAP Senior Counsel Richard Condit, who filed GAP’s lawsuit in November 2007. “Journalists should have the right to inform the public what officials want to do with this waste.”

Oregon law is unique in demanding that the method of chemical agent (i.e., hazardous waste) disposal be accomplished via the “best available technology.” Other methods of HD disposal with a much lower risk for environmental and community exposure to mercury and other contaminants exist. For example, one chemical warfare agent depot has destroyed mustard agent in recent years by a “neutralization” method which utilizes mixing the agent with boiling water and bacteria. Other depots are planning similar non-incineration methods of disposal.

Condit continued, “The bottom line is that it is likely that a significant discussion regarding the means to be used for secondary or other waste disposal may be debated at this teleconference, but state officials are shutting the door on concerned public citizens.” Even if the discussion is only about what action the EQC will next take regarding UMCDF, however, the public has a right to hear the debate and be involved in the discussion.

To read the State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality’s press release, click here.