by Pam Zubeck
More will be done to protect the environment against poisonous mustard gas stored at the Pueblo Chemical Depot under an agreement between the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and the Department of Defense announced today.
The agreement is pending a U.S. District Court judge’s approval and if approved would end a lawsuit and years of negotiation between the state and DOD regarding the chemical weapons storage.
"Our mission always has been to make sure the chemical weapons are stored in a manner consistent with the Colorado hazardous waste regulations,” Gary Baughman, director of the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division of the state health department, said in a statement. “We look forward to continued cooperation between the state and Department of Defense.”
The munitions are stored in 94 earth-covered concrete igloos that until recently vented to the open air. A waste analysis plan for the facility that required additional monitoring procedures for the waste munitions to increase worker safety was approved by the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division in May 2009. This plan is currently enforceable and its terms are included in the final agreement.
The agreement includes the following additional monitoring procedures:
· monitoring the munitions at lower concentrations
· monitoring for mustard agent releases outside the igloos
· monitoring to verify the composition and concentration of the other hazardous waste constituents that may be contained in any releases that may occur.
The Department of Defense made a decision in February 2010 to close the vents and, as part of the final agreement, will install charcoal filters on the vents to capture any chemical agent. This eliminates the need to monitor for mustard agent outside the igloos.
The agreement now includes an amended waste analysis plan, and documents the monitoring procedures that will be implemented at the facility for adequate protection of public health and the environment. Worker Protection Limit monitoring will be performed to account for low level releases of mustard agent in the igloos that may pose carcinogenic health effects.
In addition to chemical weapons storage in the igloos, the Department of Defense also has 11 mustard-containing bottles used several decades ago in a campaign to determine the efficacy of the mustard agent. The actual concentration of hazardous waste constituents which may pose a risk to workers as a vapor will be determined. The agreement includes a timeline for DoD to submit a plan to the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division detailing how the contents of the bottles will be analyzed.
The agreement also includes analyzing any waste generated from the stockpile, such as wood pallets and used protective clothing. If the waste exhibits hazardous waste characteristics, then the Department of Defense must follow the requirements of the Hazardous Waste Regulations in determining appropriate treatment, storage and disposal. This could include shipping to a hazardous waste incineration facility permitted to handle that particular waste.
The Department of Defense must operate the facility in accordance with the waste analysis plan under the new agreement to provide adequate protection of public health and the environment. Division representatives will use the waste analysis plan to conduct inspections of the facility to ensure compliance with the Colorado Hazardous Waste Regulations.