In Environment, Human rights, Justice, Politics, Public Health on June 6, 2017 at 7:22 am

By Dan Ross, Newsweek, 5-16-17

Two years ago, after Erin Card moved within two miles of the Radford Army
Ammunition Plant in southwest Virginia, she began noticing threads of smoke
that occasionally rose above the heavily wooded site. She started asking
about the source, and was stunned by what she learned: Toxic explosives were
being burned in the open air. ³It just seems crazy to me,² says Card, 36.

There is no proof that the fumes have harmed Card¹s family, which has lived
in the Radford area for more than a decade. Yet her husband has suffered
from cancer (he¹s now in remission), and the eldest of their young boys,
5-year-old Rex, had a cyst by his thyroid removed. “Sometimes,” Card says,
“I feel sick to my stomach with worry.”
The open burning and detonation of hazardous waste explosives is banned in
many countries, including Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. And in the
United States, private industry long ago abandoned the primitive disposal
practice, which is blamed for toxic air, soil and water pollution.

But the U.S. military and Department of Energy have been allowed to continue
the open burning and detonation of explosives and, in a few cases, even
radioactive wastes under a 1980 exemption from the Environmental Protection
Agency. The EPA granted the exemption to provide time to develop better
disposal techniques. Yet today, the U.S. allows open burning and detonation
in at least 39 locations, according to federal data. That includes 31
military sites, at least five Department of Energy operations and one
private business that handles wastes for the Department of Defense.

The government also continues the practice in Guam and the Puerto Rican
island of Vieques, where open detonation, practice bombing and weapons
development have fueled controversy for more than 60 years.

“It¹s crazy that in the 21st century, they¹re still allowed to do it,” says
Marylia Kelley, executive director of Tri-Valley CAREs, an environmental
watchdog group monitoring the cleanup of an open burn site at the Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California. Developers hope to
begin construction soon on thousands of homes within a mile of the open burn
site at Lawrence Livermore‹which, Kelley argues will expose residents to a
range of toxic emissions. “It’s an extremely crude technology,” she says.

The latest defense spending bill included an amendment requiring the
National Academy of Sciences to study alternatives to open burning. Senator
Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat who helped push through the amendment, has long
championed the cleanup in her home state of Wisconsin at the Badger Army
Ammunition Plant, which used to conduct open burning. “This will ensure that
other sites are not contaminated the way that the Badger site was,” Baldwin
wrote in an email.

But some believe the National Academy’s study (to be completed by June
2018) is mere foot-dragging, since alternatives such as contained
incinerators have long been available, and the Defense Department has faced
calls to use them for decades. As far back as 1991, the EPA told the
Pentagon that “safe alternatives” to open burning and detonation “can and
should be developed.” In 1997, Congress told
<https://www.congress.gov/bill/104th-congress/house-bill/3230&gt; the Defense
Department to move ahead with environmentally clean disposal methods for
munitions, rockets and explosives within five years, but little came of it.


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