CAMP MINDEN, LA (KSLA) - There will be no open burning of the 15 million pounds of M6 propellant left improperly stored and abandoned at Camp Minden back in October 2012.
On Friday, the Environmental Protection Agency effectively
on a recommendation by the Louisiana Military Department (LMD) to hire Baton Rouge-based contractor Explosive Service International (ESI) and use their Contained Burn method of disposal, which will also be used to get rid of 320,000 pounds Clean Burning Igniter (CBI).
According to a statement released by the EPA, "The recommendation includes accepting the advanced air pollution control options to maximize safety and flexibility in handling the rapidly decomposing materials and deteriorating storage and packaging materials.
The EPA added that it "completed an extensive review of the state's recommendation with the safety of the public as our most important consideration."
It's a victory for environmental concerns surrounding the disposal method of the explosive materials that comes after more than 2 years of wrangling over who is responsible for cleaning it up and exactly how it will be done. "In the interest of time and expediency, I think this is the best possible scenario," explained LSU-Shreveport Chemistry Professor Brian Salvadore.
The high-pressure sealed incineration method addresses concerns about what would be released into the air raised in early 2014 when the EPA conducted an open pit burn test. Prof. Salvatore described it as, "A state of the art incineration method."
During public meetings last fall held by the EPA, the agency had reassured the public that open-tray burning would be the safest and most cost-effective way to get rid of the material, which has been described as a ticking time bomb if left unchecked.
Prof. Salvatore expressed relief that the open tray burn is now off the table for good. He was among the first to warn that it could have caused a health and environmental crisis had the public not took action. "It would (have) affected health, I believe cancer rates would have risen; there's evidence doubled, tripled. Also, more birth defects, more problems with thyroids."
That was a primary factor in why
. That backlash prompted a review of alternatives by the LMD, which got under way in March of 2015.
The LMD submitted their recommendations to the EPA on April 14, and the EPA on Friday confirmed the agency will not stand in the way of the plan to incinerate the material using ESI's closed-burn method.
Prof. Salvatore says it's already been used to destroy M6 with a high success rate in Belgium and will destroy virtually all of that old Cold War era propellant. "The level of what will be emitted is going to be less than. 0001 percent of what's there. 99.999999 percent will be destroyed, and that's the best that any incinerator in the world can do," said Salvatore.
He added that emissions from the closed burn will be less than what comes out of your car. "Anything that's burned is going to have some emissions, but the level here is going to be safer than your typical industrial plant around the state."
Salvatore says he expects construction of the contained burn incinerator to get under way in the fall and take about 6 months to complete. The disposal process itself could take a year and a half.
Baseline monitoring at the site began this week, and is expected to continue for 5 to 6 weeks. Monitoring around the perimeter of the site as well as at the stack itself while incineration is under way.
The first chamber of the multi-stage incinerator will be about 80 feet tall, according to Salvatore, which will allow the material to burn completely contained.
From the powerful incinerator burning at nearly 3,000 degrees Fahrenheit, it would be vented into an afterburner and then into a filtration system before going through a scrubbing system to take out nitrogen oxides. "It's taking care of every single thing that we were concerned about the best it can be done," said Salvatore.
The latest estimated cost of the project now stands at just over $28 million, paid for by the U.S. Army. That estimate is based on calculations provided to the EPA by the Louisiana Military Department. EPA spokesman David Gray says considering the original, open burn method would have cost between $22 to $24 million, this new method is "not greatly higher in cost."
Prof. Salvatore says the very next step in the process is expected to be a public meeting sometime in the next two weeks. Expect to see Frances Kelley speak up at that public meeting.
Kelley is with Louisiana Progress Action, a non-partisan group involved from the beginning in helping stop the open burn at Camp Minden. She and others preferred the process that uses super-pressurized water to speed up the oxidation process, pulling apart the dangerous chemicals.
Kelley told us: "I am severely disappointed that the Army refused to follow through on their promise and give the EPA access to the Super-Critical Water Oxidation (SCWO) units." She promised to ask the EPA about that issue at the next Community Advisory Group meeting for the Camp Minden cleanup. That takes place on Monday night starting at 6:30 p.m. at Doyline 1st Baptist Church.
David Gray, with the EPA, referred us to the Louisiana Military Department regarding Kelley's comments about the SCWO process. Then, Col. Pete Schneider with LMD referred us back to the EPA. As of news time, U.S. Army spokeswoman Kristina Curley could not be reached for comment.
The material was left behind by Explo Systems, Inc., which has since gone bankrupt. Explo was leasing space at Camp Minden, a National Guard installation, with a contract to separate military propellant bags and resell the components.
Executives of the company were
related to the improper storage of the materials.