Discharge of VX Wastewater to Delaware River Scrutinized

WASHINGTON, DC, April 9, 2004 (ENS) - Two governors and their Congressional delegations are raising questions about the potential environmental impact of a U.S. Army plan to transport treated waste from VX nerve agent from Newport, Indiana, to New Jersey and discharge it into the Delaware River.

New Governor James McGreevey and Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner Thursday sent a letter to Les Brownlee, Acting Secretary of the Army, urging him to reconsider the plan to handle 1,269 tons of VX. The proposal is part of a federal program to reduce the nation's chemical weapons stockpiles as required by the Chemical Weapons Convention.

"As governors of states having vital military facilities, we recognize the importance of meeting the United States' commitment to eliminate stockpiles of the nerve agent VX now stored at Newport, Indiana," McGreevey and Minner wrote. "This commitment must be met, however, in a manner that comports with current law and with full protection of human health and the environment."

The VX would be treated at the DuPont's Chambers Works Secure Environmental Treatment Plant, and what the Army calls the "neutralized" effluent would be discharged into the Delaware River at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in New Jersey.


More than 1,000 employees work at the DuPont Chambers Works site in Deepwater, New Jersey. (Photo courtesy Dupont)
"We question the safety and wisdom of transporting this material, which will require daily shipments of several thousand gallons of waste for up to two years, from Indiana to Chambers Works," the governors write. "The attendant risks, and the impacts to roads and communities, simply have not been justified."

Scientists and engineers from Delaware, New Jersey and the Delaware River Basin Commission have spent the last month reviewing the technical information provided by the Army and DuPont on March 5. Experts from both states have met and discussed the proposed project with the technical experts from the Army and DuPont.

DuPont already is conducting VX treatment trials at the facility, one of the world's largest industrial wastewater treatment plants.

But DuPont announced Thursday that it will not accept a contract to transport and treat the VX wastewater from the Army's Newport, Indiana site until the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) completes a formal review of the Army's proposal.

The Delaware and New Jersey Congressional delegations requested the CDC's National Center for Environmental Health on March 29 to conduct a formal review of the Army's proposal.

DuPont said the company will address the specific technical questions that have been raised by Delaware and New Jersey regulatory agencies. "Technical assessments by a number of DuPont scientists with broad experience in this area concluded this proposal could be accomplished in a safe and environmentally sound manner and poses no unique hazards," said Nick Fanandakis, vice president and general manager of DuPont Chemical Solutions Enterprise.

"While we are confident in our science, we also understand that the community and regulatory agencies have concerns and we want to address them," said Fanandakis. "We will not proceed until the CDC conducts its formal review."


New Jersey Governor James McGreevey (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
The governors have been working to improve the water quality of the Delaware Bay and estuary, and they are concerned that a discharge of 2.3 tons of phosphoric acids per day as proposed by the Army would degrade the the waterway again.

"Due to a coordinated effort by our two states, we can report that Delaware Bay is an estuary on the road to recovery," Minner and McGreevey write.

The Delaware River and Bay combine to form the Delaware Estuary, which is a part of the national estuary program, the governors point out, which requires the two states to reduce, not increase, the amounts and types of pollutants discharged into the water.

The discharge would include ethyl-methyl phosphonic acid (EMPA) and methyl phosphonic acid (MPA), which the governors point out have been identified in the Chemical Weapons Convention as "posing significant risk."

"We are concerned," they write, "that DuPont's treatability report indicates an inappropriate method of handling these phosphorus-based acids. If approved, this proposal would result in the discharge of 2.3 tons per day of EMPA and MPA into the Delaware River."

DuPont's treatment process dilutes, but does not substantially treat, the EMPA and MPA that would arrive by tanker truck from Indiana.


Delaware Governor Ruth Ann Minner (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"There is little, if any, published information about the environmental effects of these organic acids and we are concerned about using the Delaware River and Bay as the testing grounds," Minner and McGreevey write.

The discharge could impact drinking water used by area residents. The United Water Delaware's drinking water intake is uncomfortably close to the Chambers Works discharge point, the governors warn. This facility provides drinking water to over 100,000 customers a day, and it is located within the periphery of the 12 mile daily tidal movement in this region of the river.

A substantial increase in the concentration of phosphorus in portions of the Delaware Estuary that might result from the discharge worries the governors too. Phosporus is a plant nutrient, but there has been no evaluation of the potential for the discharged phosphorus to stimulate algal blooms in the Delaware Bay.

"Such blooms diminish dissolved oxygen levels in the water and therefore may affect fish and other aquatic organisms," the governors warn.


Delarware River Estuary (Photo courtesy Association of National Estuary Programs)
Residual VX in the waste stream going to Chambers Works, is also of concern to the governors. The discharge is projected to contain VX at levels at or near the detection limit, a level at which lethal effects in striped bass have been identified, they write.

A major juvenile striped bass breeding area in the Cherry Islands Flats area of the Delaware River is a "recovering and sensitive fishery," that would be harmed by exposure to VX, warn the governors.

In addition to the CDC oversight, DuPont is calling for an independent, third party review of the wastewater proposal which could include a study of the impact of the effluent relative to this proposal on the Delaware River. Such a study could include doing a baseline assessment of the river before the Newport project begins and regular monitoring to assure that the project has no negative effects on the river.

In December the Army shelved a proposal to send the same wastes to a Dayton, Ohio, treatment facility. A consultant hired by Montgomery County, where Dayton is located, said treatment methods for the waste as outlined by the Army need more testing and monitoring to determine whether they pose a risk to people and the environment.

The New Jersey and Delaware governors do not want the waste either, and suggest that destruction of the VX take place "in close proximity" to the Newport, Indiana depot.

"We believe that the Department of the Army and its contractors should reconsider their proposed plan to neutralize 1,269 tons of the VX nerve agent stored in Newport, Indiana and truck it to DuPont's Chambers Works wastewater plant," the governors conclude.