The nearly 30-member panel of the dialogue committee tasked by the EPA to discuss safer alternatives to the open burn method of M6 disposal at Camp Minden has narrowed down the choices to six alternatives.
These six alternatives were chosen because they are certified by the U.S. Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board.
Out of Thursday’s Dialogue Committee meeting, a technical work group was formed to discuss the different technologies. In light of this, the Minden Press-Herald will take a look at the six alternatives, with the first three listed below.
First, here’s a look at the ACWA process by which these technologies were assessed. The Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment was formed to “identify and demonstrate at least two technologies as alternatives to incineration for the destruction of assembled chemical weapons,” according to the ACWA Program Executive Office.
“As plans for the destruction of the stockpile were developed, environmental organizations, community members living near stockpile sites and government regulatory agencies began discussing other means by which the stockpile might be destroyed,” PEOACWA continues.
Jane Williams, a member of Earth Justice and of the nonprofit California Communities Against Toxics, is one of five people in the United States to have been a part of the ACWA process, getting a firsthand look at these technologies and how they work.
She explains each technology and how they work in detail and how they break down the chemical compounds in the M6 without harming the environment.
Supercritical water oxidation
Williams says this process uses super-pressure water, creating unique properties, which pull apart dangerous chemicals.
“When you super-pressurize water, it takes on these unique properties, and these unique properties allow it to tear apart tightly bound chemicals,” she said. “M6 is a compilation of maybe eight chemicals, and all those chemicals have a different composition. So what the water oxidation does is it strips them apart so they look more like the periodic table than they do these long names.”
After the chemicals are “taken apart,” it becomes slurry, or liquid. When it comes out of the machine, the water contains all these chemicals that were taken apart. The water is then sent through a treatment process, like a local water treatment plant, where it is processed into gray water.
“Supercritical water oxidation is the most aggressive of the technologies as far as tearing chemicals apart,” she said. “The destruction efficiency is very high.”
Three units were delivered to Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Richmond, Kentucky to treat demilitarized rocket weapons. If they use one 3-gallon-per-minute unit, it would take four years to get through all of the M6 propellant.
There is a 10-gallon-per-minute unit in Oklahoma right now, she says, and using that unit and one 3-gallon unit would take roughly one year to dispose of the M6.
General Atomics, the company that developed this process, leased one of the 3-gallon-per-minute units to Explo at one time, she says; and the unit is still at Camp Minden and is permitted by the State of Louisiana.
This process is similar to SCWO and it changes the pH of the waste to break the chemicals apart, she says.
“You end up with an effluent,” she said. “You put it through the unit, and what you get out is what has the periodic table in it. It’s a more famous technology because it was used to treat the Syrian chemical weapons. They were already in a liquid form, they were treated at Camp Ray in the Mediterranean, and they shipped the waste to hazardous waste incinerators in Germany and the United Kingdom.
“That’s one of the down sides to hydrolysis,” she continued. “You have to ship the waste off to be incinerated.”
Williams says the U.S. Army owns three hydrolysis units at Edgewood Chemical Biological Center in Edgewood, Maryland.
The Detonation of Ammunition in a Vacuum-Integrated Chamber – DAVINCH – “comprises a double-walled steel vacuum detonation chamber and an off-gas system,” according to PEOACWA.
“Chemical munitions are placed in the DAVINCH detonation chamber where they are surrounded by donor explosives,” ACWA officials say. “The detonation of these donor explosives shatters the munitions, and the shock and heat of the explosion destroys the chemical agent and energetics.”
Williams says this process is used for explosives that contain shrapnel. The gasses produced by the detonations go through a scrubber process, which pulls harmful gasses out before it is released into the air.
“It was created by Kobe Steel in Japan, and they deal with heating things,” she said. “The other two (processes) are using water; the DAVINCH uses high temperature to tear the chemicals apart. It does it in a vacuum so you don’t get these bad parts and incomplete combustion. It’s being used to clean the munitions out of Kobe Bay.”
Dynasafe (Static Detonation Chamber)
Dynasafe is the company in Sweden that developed the method of the static detonation chamber, which uses a machine to combust old munitions and uses a scrubber system to cut hazardous emissions before releasing them into the air.
“DAVINCH, the static detonation chamber and the controlled detonation chamber all use heat to rip apart these bad chemicals,” Williams said. “The DAVINCH system does it in a vacuum. Dynasafe does not use a vacuum. It gets the material super-hot and those gasses are treated through a system of filters. The cool thing about this technology is they have the ability to hold the gasses.”
The gasses can be tested before they are released into the air, she says.
“They have a detonation chamber at Blue Grass in Kentucky as well,” she said. “Certain chemicals are going to go through the supercritical water oxidation and some of the chemicals are going to go through the static detonation chamber because they can hold the gasses before they release them into environment.”
Controlled Detonation Chambers
The controlled detonation chambers use heat, but not “super-hot” heat like the static detonation chamber, Williams says.
“There’s a lot of people that would argue that the controlled detonation chamber would not be the best fit for this problem,” she said, “because the controlled detonation chambers are usually smaller throughputs. They are normally used for munitions that will actually blow up, like hand grenades or cluster bombs – things that have fragments. It could be used for (the M6). They would burn it and the gasses would go through a scrubbing system, but it does not have the ability to hold, test and release the gasses.”
Throughput is the amount of items passing through a system or process.
But, she says, controlled detonation chambers do have a permit by the Explosives Safety Board to treat munitions.
“My goal at that meeting was to say, ‘Let’s look at all the technologies, and look at all their benefits,’” she said. “Then you have the controlled detonation chamber. You would detonate the material and then you would end up with like an ash or solid waste that you would need to destroy.”
This method uses humic acid, which is an acid that uses pH on the high end and pulls apart the chemicals in the material by mixing it with an acid. That acid tears apart the chemicals, leaving a solid waste.
“The chemicals that were nasty are not supposed to be there anymore,” she said. “Then you have the solid waste you still have to get rid of. It might be possible to tear apart the chemicals that you don’t want and then you have chemical feedstock left over where you can take the chemicals out of the material and reuse them in industrial processes.”
It would be like a recycling process, she says.
She reiterated all these processes have been permitted by the ESB, but all six have been permitted in one state or another. The two permitted in Louisiana are Dynasafe and the supercritical water oxidation.
The controlled detonation chambers are permitted in Utah, Oklahoma, and the DAVINCH system is permitted in Kentucky, she says.