Groups Appeal to Lawmakers to Stop Nerve Agent Waste Shipments

HOUSTON, Texas, August 22, 2007 (ENS) - Environmental health and justice groups in Texas, joined by the national Chemical Weapons Working Group coalition, today asked Representative Sheila Jackson-Lee, a Texas Democrat, for help in challenging the U.S. Army's shipment of VX nerve agent hydrolysate from Newport, Indiana to Port Arthur, Texas to be incinerated.

The toxic material at issue is VX hydrolysate, caustic wastewater created when VX nerve agent is destroyed by mixing it with sodium hydroxide and water at the U.S. Army's Newport Indiana Chemical Depot. The Army is destroying its stockpile of VX as required by an international treaty, the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires destruction of these agents by all nations by specified target dates.

On April 5, 2007, the Army signed a $49 million contract with Veolia Environmental Services of Lombard, Illinois to provide final treatment of the caustic wastewater at its plant in Port Arthur, Texas. The company is a subsidary of the Paris-based global environmental services corporation Veolia Environnment.

The Chemical Weapons Working Group and other citizens groups who sued to stop the shipments were denied the relief they sought by a federal judge in Indiana on August 6. The Army agreed to temporarily suspend the shipments from Indiana to Texas while the federal court heard evidence in the lawsuit, but now that the case has been decided, the suspension is at an end.

Texas groups involved in the challenge are Houston-based Citizens League for Environmental Action Now, CLEAN, as well as the Community In-Power Development Association, Inc. and the Lone Star Chapter Sierra Club.

In a letter to Jackson-Lee, the groups asked her to investigate the Army's lack of consideration of environmental justice factors in Port Arthur before making a decision to ship the waste there for incineration.

They also asked her to inquire as to whether or not the Army followed recommendations outlined by the General Accounting Office in a January 2007 report on cost assumptions associated with off-site shipment of the hydrolysate.

The shipment and incineration of hydrolysate "is a classic example of environmental racism," the letter states.

Noting the high percentage of people of color and the high poverty rate in the Port Arthur area, the letter points out, "The Army has not performed an environmental justice assessment associated with shipment and destruction of this waste in Port Arthur, Texas, despite the clear disproportionate impact of pollution on southeast Texas and that specific community. This violates the Executive Order on Environmental Justice."

"This situation is exactly the kind that caused President [Bill] Clinton to sign the Executive Order on Environmental Justice," said Juan Parras, Houston environmental justice activist and community organizer for CLEAN. "We need our federal legislators to stand up in support of disenfranchised communities, even when some of their colleagues won't."

Chemical Weapons Working Group Director Craig Williams said 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 Jackson-Lee and other 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.

On Thursday, August 23 these and other Texas groups will also bring their message to Texas state legislators in Austin.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.