New Jersey Blocks DuPont Treatment of Nerve Agent Wastewater

TRENTON, New Jersey, May 23, 2005 (ENS) - The state of New Jersey is blocking a proposal by the U.S. Army and the chemical company DuPont to transport corrosive wastewater left after VX nerve agent is neutralized from Indiana to New Jersey for further treatment. The VX nerve agent now is located in a stockpile at a U.S. Army base in Indiana, where the neutralization has begun.

The Army has asked DuPont to transport the wastewater to the company's Secure Environmental Treatment facility at Chambers Works in Deepwater, New Jersey, the largest commercial wastewater treatment facility in North America. There DuPont proposes to treat it with a new patented wastewater treatment technology using powdered activated carbon.

But on Friday state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Commissioner Bradley Campbell issued a draft surface water discharge permit for the DuPont Chambers Works facility that does not allow treatment of a neutralized VX nerve agent byproduct.

"New Jersey continues to oppose the United States Army's proposal to transport nerve agent waste from the Newport Chemical Depot in Indiana to DuPont's Chambers Works environmental treatment facility in New Jersey," said Acting Governor Richard Codey, a Democrat.

Codey

Acting Governor of New Jersey Richard Codey (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
"At my direction, DEP issued a new draft permit for the facility that precludes acceptance of the nerve agent waste unless and until the proposal is subject to rigorous and independent review," the governor said.

Codey Friday issued a letter to Secretary of the United States Army Dr. Francis J. Harvey stating New Jersey's reasons for opposing the transport of the VX corrosive wastewater for treatment at the DuPont facility.

"The Army's proposal is flawed, and should be abandoned not revised," said Commissioner Campbell. "If it is revised, DEP will conduct a thorough review of any new information concerning the treatment of VX hydrolysate at the DuPont plant and require a comprehensive public comment process."

The Army is neutralizing the VX nerve gas as part of its responsibility under the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty ratified by U.S. Congress in 1997 to destroy all chemical weapons stockpiles in the United States. This includes the 1,200 tons of VX nerve agent stockpiled at the Newport Chemical Depot, Newport, Indiana.

The Newport Chemical Depot is one of eight Army installations in the U.S. with a chemical agent stockpile. The facility was completed in June 2003, and the Army began to neutralize the VX agent on May 5, 2005.

After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the priority for this process was accelerated to ensure that these stockpiles were eliminated as potential terrorist targets. The current target for completion of the U.S. Armyís chemical weapons destruction projects is 2007.

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Highly trained and experienced workers transport steel containers of VX nerve agent from storage at the Newport Chemical Depot to the Newport Chemical Agent Disposal Facility May 5. (Photo courtesy U.S. Army)
The U.S. Army proposal has raised concerns and questions about potential impacts on public health and the environment.

In an attempt to quell those concerns, DuPont says if the wastewater treatment permit is eventually approved, no VX nerve agent would be transported to New Jersey, as federal law prohibits transporting any chemical agent stockpiles.

The result of neutralizing the VX nerve agent in Indiana is a large volume of caustic hydrolysate wastewater that can only be treated and disposed of properly at a state-of-the-art wastewater treatment facility. The Army has approached DuPont to provide transport and treatment of the corrosive waste water, and discharge of the treated wastewater into the Delaware River.

But in its draft permit renewal, the state of New Jersey included language that prohibits the acceptance of VX hydrolysate at this time. Commissioner Campbell says that any decision to approve or deny such a plan would be subject to further public notice and comment.

DuPont's treatment plan for the caustic hydrolysate wastewater is also under scrutiny by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta.

"The chemical destruction process will be fully completed on-site under the monitoring of independent international chemical weapons inspectors and Indiana state regulators. No wastewater containing nerve agent will ever leave the Armyís Indiana Depot," DuPont says.

But the CDC commissioned an assessment of the VX wastewater treatment proposal that said no clear criteria have been defined to determine when no more VX exists in the wastewater.

"The panel is not aware of any document that clearly states the exact criteria for offsite shipment of VX hydrolysate from NECDF or any document that codifies the Armyís commitment to the public for offsite shipment," said the report from Carmagen Engineering, Inc., a consulting company.

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Secure Environmental Treatment facility at Chambers Works in Deepwater, New Jersey (Photo courtesy DuPont)
The CDC and the EPA are still reviewing a new treatability study removal technology developed by DuPont. Because this treatability is an integral part of DuPont's proposal and a full review has not been completed, the New Jersey DEP says is "premature for DEP's draft wastewater discharge permit renewal to include any requirements for VX hydrolysate."

To reassure the state and the public, DuPont says there would be no harmful effects to the river or its aquatic life from the discharge of wastewater after treatment by its patented process.

Currently, the DuPont Secure Environmental Treatment facility treats 15 million gallons a day, with a capacity of 40 million gallons. DuPont says the treatability study demonstrates that the facility can effectively treat the stated volume of 3,000 to 7,000 gallons per day of wastewater that would be generated at the Newport site.

"This project will not dramatically increase the flow or change the stability of the river," the company said.

DuPontís assessment concludes the wastewater is not a federal Department of Transportation poison or toxic material and has no nerve agent characteristics but it is corrosive and capable of damaging the eye and skin after contact exposure. Gastrointestinal injury can result from ingestion.

An assessment by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in collaboration with the CDC and released on November 3, 2004 found that the untreated CVXH is "highly corrosive."

If the wastewater touches the skin it "could result in severe, possibly irreversible, burns to the skin or eyes." The assessment the health risk from exposure resulting from an accidental spill appears "comparable with that expected for any highly corrosive material with high pH."

Although the individual toxicity studies are limited, "they do not preclude the handling and transportation of untreated CVXH if appropriate engineering and administrative controls and personal protective equipment are used," said the ATSDR.

Human ingestion of the wastewater is not likely, the ATSDR said, but still the studies addressing this possibility "do not provide adequate data," and the data is also flawed in one of the studies on the effect of this wastewater on animals, the agency said.

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Worker attends to a tank of chemicals at Dupont's Chambers Works facility. (Photo courtesy DuPont)
The Chambers Works facility discharges wastewater to the Delaware River from three outfalls. The first outfall discharges non-contact cooling water, storm water and treated wastewater.

The second outfall discharges storm water from non-process areas of the facility but is inactive as flows have been diverted to the wastewater treatment plant.

The third outfall discharges non-contact cooling water from the facility's powerhouse.

Effluent limitations and monitoring requirements are also imposed at the end of the wastewater treatment facility at an internal monitoring point just before it combines with non-contact cooling water and storm water.

The state did offer a draft permit renewal to DuPont for Chambers Works, but it contains limits and conditions that are more stringent than the existing permit. Stricter limits on release of effluents to meet state and federal standards, and more comprehensive reporting requirements are both now required.

The Chambers Works facility is located in Pennsville and Carneys Point, Salem County and is a multi-product chemical manufacturing plant. The treatment plant receives wastewater generated from manufacturing operations as well as commercial off-site wastes. The facility also will soon be receiving partially treated sanitary wastewater from two nearby publicly owned treatment works for further treatment via the wastewater treatment plant.

Treatment at the wastewater treatment plant consists of steam stripper pretreatment, peroxide oxidation pretreatment, sludge and solids dewatering, metals precipitation, primary clarification, secondary and tertiary biological powdered activated carbon, and pH control at various points in the process.

Written comments or a request that DEP hold a public hearing on the draft document may be submitted in writing to Attention: Comments on Public Notice NJ0005100, Bureau of Point Source Permitting Region 2, P.O. Box 029, Trenton, NJ 08625 by the close of the public comment period scheduled for July 1, 2005.