VX fight goes to capital

Published 5:28 pm Thursday, August 23, 2007

The battle against VX wastewater shipments to Port Arthur has reached the governor.

After months of fighting to stop shipments of the former nerve gas agent from Newport, Ind., to Port Arthur for incineration, environmental health and justice groups held a press conference Thursday at the capital to ask Gov. Perry and state representatives for help in challenging the Army with their environmental outcry.

Rep. Lon Burnam of District 90 in Tarrant County was one of the legislators at the press conference and said he cannot believe local Southeast Texas officials are not aggressively working to stop the shipments.

“I’m absolutely opposed to the shipments. It’s dangerous and I can’t believe local officials are not raising cain about it,” Burman said in a telephone interview Thursday.

The state representative said he has been fighting hazardous waste for years and the VX battle is the worst example he has seen of endangering the environment and citizens.

“This situation is exactly the kind that caused President Clinton to sign the Executive Order on Environmental Justice,” Juan Parras, Houston environmental justice activist and community organizer for Citizens League for Environmental Action Now, said. “We need our federal legislators to stand up in support of disenfranchised communities, even when some of their colleagues won’t.”

A federal judge in Indiana recently refused to halt the shipments after a lawsuit was filed by several community groups. Port Arthur’s Community In-power and Development Association, founded by activist Hilton Kelley, was one of the groups that participated in the lawsuit. Kelley is determined to make sure Port Arthur does not become a toxic dumping ground.

Chemical Weapons Working Group Director Craig Williams noted that the Army is required to provide “maximum protection” to communities and workers throughout the chemical weapons disposal program, but he said this case is a clear example of the Army “shirking that responsibility.”

“We are looking to Representative (Sheila) Jackson-Lee and other EJ (environmental justice) leaders to help bring about a safe, secure solution to this problem, because the Army is simply unwilling to consider safer treatment of the hydrolysate,” Williams said.

Perry’s office did not immediately comment on the issue.

The first shipment of hydrolysate arrived at Veolia on April 16 as part of a $49 million contract with the U.S. Army to destroy the VX wastewater at its Port Arthur facility — one of only three facilities in the nation with the necessary equipment to do so.

Under the contract, Veolia incinerates VX hydrolysate, caustic waste water created when VX is destroyed by mixing it with sodium hydroxide and water. The waste water is shipped in 4,000-gallon containers across eight states and nearly 1,000 miles to Port Arthur. New Jersey and Ohio fought off plans to incinerate the waste there.

The company has tried to calm fears by saying that it is only bringing in waste water, not a deadly nerve agent, and that is has the proper permits, training and facilities to handle it. So far, about 350,000 gallons of the 2 million gallons contracted to be destroyed have been transported.

“We’re not posing any threat to the environment or the citizens around the plant,” said Daniel Duncan, Veolia’s environmental health and safety manager. “Everything is going fine.”

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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