State order gives hope against open burn

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Members of the public and the Louisiana Senate Environmental Quality committee were given hope the open tray burn method of disposal for nearly 19 million pounds of M6 propellant at Camp Minden will not move forward if a safe, alternative method is chosen.

Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana Army National Guard, said in the senate committee hearing at Camp Minden, an executive order issued Monday gives him the authority to go out for competitive quotes and offers to dispose of the M6 propellant other than the open tray burn.

“The EPA has always held federal oversight on this, so they have the money, they have the final say so,” he said. “Based on that executive order, I have the authority to go out and ask for bids on any process, not just open tray burn. They can stop me, they can stop the contract, they can pull the money or they can take over the site themselves if they choose to. My hope is they won’t do any of those. When we get this other information with these other contractors and processes, my hope is they will look at that and help us select the right person and the right contractor.”

During the meeting, he said he wanted to use the method chosen by the dialogue committee and the group he is working with to find a better solution.

Sen. Mike Walsworth, chair of the environmental quality committee, said this is good news.

“The biggest news is that (Maj.) Gen. Curtis is going to move forward with new proposals, and I think that’s what all of us wanted to hear,” he said. “I think all of us, not a single person, wants open burn in the Camp Minden area. Nothing has changed as of today. Open burn is still what the EPA and the U.S. Army has proposed. But this opens up the door, and I think will allow some other options.”

Rep. Gene Reynolds, District 10, says he’s excited about the announcement as well, saying he feels the open tray burn is now probably off the table.

“Now the next issue will be which one of the alternatives we want to use that is timely, cost effective and the safest way,” he said. “That’s a big announcement – huge. I’m cautiously pleased. I honestly believe we’re past the open burn.”

Comments from the public were also strong in the opposition to open tray burn. Scientists, community members and others came to the podium to talk about the health risks, economic impact if the Army decides to move forward with open tray burn and some personal stories of what they experienced that night.

Frances Kelley, with Louisiana Progress Action, talked about one of the most toxic chemicals that would be released into the air if the open tray burn method were allowed to move forward. According to a fact sheet, dioxin is the toxic chemical found in Agent Orange, which is what made so many Vietnam vets so ill. Dioxin is a product of incomplete combustion created during open burns of hazardous waste.

She also talked about the laws that would be broken if this method moved forward – their own law – the Resources and Conservation Recovery Act, also known as RCRA. This law, she told audience members, says hazardous materials cannot be burned, adding the Army is using a loophole in the law that indicates it can be burned if no other option is available.

That is not the case, she says. There are several disposal methods that are much safer for the community and for the environment.

Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy Hatch was in attendance and applauded the news she heard regarding the executive order.

“I took a lot of notes, and I do appreciate Gen. Curtis’ announcement,” she said. “I think that will be the best way to go. The open tray burn is in the AOC as written. If another method that meets all the criteria is safe and time is of the essence, I’m happy with whatever appropriate method is chosen.”

In January, she sent a letter to the EPA requesting documents to show the science to back up the open tray burn. She gave them five days to produce the documents; however, instead of providing those records to her, they began publishing documentation on their public website, she said.

“My concern is to have it available for folks to review and look at,” she said.

In October 2012, an explosion rocked the community for miles around, which led to the arrest of six individuals from Explo Systems, Inc., which is now bankrupt. Louisiana State Police discovered millions of pounds of the demilitarized M6 propellant improperly stored at the site.

While it has been exposed to the elements, the propellant is now properly stored in 97 “igloos,” or bunkers, in an unpopulated area of Camp Minden, During the meeting, Curtis assured the public no one is inside the danger, or blast zone, and there is limited access to that area.

The newly formed dialogue committee is set to have its first meeting Thursday.

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