BATON ROUGE – A bill from Reps. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, and Terry Brown, I-Colfax, would ban open burning as a method to dispose of explosive materials. Reynolds and Brown have filed House Bill 11 for next year’s legislative session which says the secretary of the Department of Environmental Quality can’t grant a “permit, license, variance or compliance schedule that authorizes, nor shall the secretary allow in any manner, the open burning of any munitions or waste explosives.”
HB 11 comes after an extensive battle with the U.S. Army and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency over the best disposal method for 7,800 tons of M6 propellant abandoned by Explo Systems. The company had a federal contract to dispose of the material used to propel artillery rounds but it declared bankruptcy and abandoned the material.
“I’m deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the people of central Louisiana. The proposed operation in Colfax will affect people not only Grant Parish, but in the five surrounding parishes,” Rep. Terry Brown, I-Colfax, said. “We already have high mercury levels in our lakes. This plan will affect a 40-mile radius,” Brown said. “We need to know more about Clean Harbor’s proposal. Everyone needs to know there’s a public meeting coming up.”
Rep. Brown said the permit request will be discussed at a 6 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 23, at the Grant Parish Civic Center in Colfax.
Reynolds and the Louisiana National Guard pushed for a contained burn that would prohibit pollutants from escaping, but EPA and the Army wanted to use an open-burn method, which is cheaper. Eventually, the EPA agreed to the contained burn at a Camp Minden facility.
Although the Camp Minden problem appears to be solved, Reynolds said the bill addresses another problem in Colfax, where a company named Safe Harbor recently completed an open burn of other explosives shipped there by Camp Minden and is seeking to greatly expand its operations.
“We have a better way to do it,” he said. “This is an internal combustion furnace and the residue is 99.9 to the 8th degree pure. You don’t still watch a black and white TV. We should use new technology to dispose of this waste.”
Sen.-elect Ryan Gatti, R-Bossier City, is joining Reynolds in his fight to stop open burning of hazardous materials because “open burning is not the safest method. The Army-built incinerator at Fort Minden has seven stages of filtration” to remove hazardous materials. “The residue is basically soot. It’s inert.”
LSU-Shreveport Chemistry Professor Brian Salvatore supports Reynolds’ proposed legislation because “the current law is not rigorous enough. It’s not protecting people.”
The federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act states that the safest available disposal method should be used, he said, but the EPA leaves it up to states to make that decision. The state DEQ grants permits for open burning, which Salvatore calls “the crudest method available.”
Clean Harbor has metal pads that it uses for open burns of what Salvatore calls “the worst of the worst, because nobody else wants it. No pollution stops at a boundary wall.”
Reynolds said he is expecting a fight against the bill. “The military is not going to like it because open burning is the cheapest way, and the company, based in Massachusetts, is not going to like it, but I’m ready,” he said. “We’re tired of open burning.”