A laboratory-scale test intended to project the level of toxic emissions from open burning PCB-contaminated paint is flawed and could lead to an underestimation of risks to workers and nearby residents, according to scientists that have reviewed the Army plan.
“For one, the study is limited to the effects of temperature,” warned Dr. Peter deFur, a nationally-recognized expert on dioxin and other environmental toxins.
“There are many, many factors that can contribute to the formation of dioxins such as the amount of oxygen present, how long PCBs are exposed to a particular level of heat, and the types of PCBs that are being burned,” deFur said. “Predicting dioxin formation is a highly complex process and not the simplistic approach the Army proposes.”
The Army’s $100,000 “paint chip” test is a critical first step in a Pentagon-level push to ultimately gain EPA approval to open burn hundreds of PCB-contaminated buildings at Badger Army Ammunition Plant (WI), Ravenna Arsenal (OH), and other closing bases.
The military is seeking a precedent-setting exception to current EPA law which prohibits open burning of PCB wastes with concentrations above 50 parts per million (ppm). PCBs, found primarily in applied paint, have been detected in buildings at Badger Army Ammunition Plant at levels as high as 22,000 ppm – more than 400 times the current federal limit.
DeFur was hired by Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger to review the Army’s planned test protocol which was recently submitted to the EPA.
“Open burning PCB-tainted wastes results in the uncontrolled release of dioxins – a dangerous contaminant that is especially toxic to children and babies,” deFur cautioned.
The developing fetus, infants and children are the population groups most vulnerable to PCB and dioxin exposure. Exposure of fetuses and children may impede the development of their brains, reproductive, immune and hormonal systems. Future mothers should be especially careful because the toxic load that builds up in fatty tissues will be passed to the fetus in utero and to the infant through breast feeding.
“There is no safe level of exposure when it comes to dioxins,” deFur said. “The exposure to workers and nearby families should be zero.”
EPA officials said they have not finished their review of the Army’s paint test plan.