A nationwide effort to assure the safe disposal of our nation’s conventional munitions stockpile is one step closer to achieving its goal. The Senate approved an amendment to promote alternatives to open air burning and detonation of hazardous munitions wastes with the passage this week of the Senate National Defense Authorization Act.
“There are measures in this bill that I have worked to include and support, such as a provision I authored to direct the National Academies of Sciences to assist the military in using safer and more environmentally-friendly technologies to properly dispose of munitions. This will help prevent the kinds of negative public health and ecological impacts that can occur at military sites like the former Badger Army Ammunition Plant,” U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) stated.
“The amendment was supported by Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY),” said Craig Williams of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. “Senator McConnell has a successful track record of advocating for safer methods to dispose of chemical weapons. His support for studying more protective methods of dealing with conventional weapons disposal is a good fit and most welcome.”
“In hundreds of communities across the country, the military is using open air burning and open detonation to demilitarize its conventional munitions stockpile,” emphasized Laura Olah with Citizens for Safe Water Around Badger in Wisconsin. “This archaic practice causes the uncontrolled dispersion of toxic heavy metals including chromium and lead, energetic compounds, perchlorate, nitrogen oxides and other munitions-related contaminants to the environment.”
“We are incredibly grateful for Senator Baldwin’s continued leadership in rescuing critical Department of Defense medical research and preventing further injury and damage from disposing of old munitions at U.S. military bases,” said Anthony Hardie, Director of Veterans for Common Sense, a veterans and military education and information organization headquartered in Washington, DC.
In every EPA region in the nation, open burning of hazardous waste poses a risk to soldiers, veterans, defense workers and communities. In California, the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station alone has a permit to open air burn/detonate up to 5,475,000 pounds per year.
“We believe that this study will provide guidance to the DOD, DOE, states, and EPA on how to deploy our nation’s best, cutting-edge technology to the task of destroying or reusing our aging conventional munitions stockpile,” said Jane Williams, Executive Director of California Communities Against Toxics.
“During the United States’ chemical weapons demilitarization program, taxpayers invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the research and development of technologies that can treat hazardous waste explosives,” said Frances Kelley with Louisiana Progress Action. “Available technologies include supercritical water oxidation, gas phase chemical reduction, and detonation chambers, and they should be deployed to prevent costly environmental contamination and damage to the health of nearby communities.”
“The same defense contractor that has been conducting open air burning and detonation here in Vieques has a closed detonation chamber that has been deployed in both Hawaii and Australia,” said Myrna Pagán with Vidas Viequenses Valen in Puerto Rico. “But the military claims that moving it to Vieques is not possible, or not called for, or not cost efficient. We will continue to demand the use of safer technologies and repudiate the military’s claim that detonation does no harm to life or environment.”
In 2009, the U.S. Army Audit Agency reported that the conventional munitions stockpile had grown to more than 557,000 tons and could exceed 1.1 million tons by FY 2025 representing a $2.8 billion demilitarization liability.
With the passage of the Senate National Defense Authorization Act, the bill will now go to conference committee with the House and the final compromise version will have to be passed by both chambers.
The Cease Fire Campaign is a national grassroots coalition of more than 50 environmental, labor, veterans service and social justice organizations that seeks to protect human health and the environment by calling for the immediate implementation of safer alternatives to open air burning, detonation and non-closed loop incineration/combustion of military munitions and a greater emphasis on waste prevention and recycling.