September 22, 2007

A Lot of Nerve

Okay, I read this Texas Observer story, which seemed mildly outrageous at first. Basically, there's a chemical-weapons facility up in Indiana that is destroying a bunch of cold war-era weapons with VX nerve agent in them. Deadly stuff. After the weapons are destroyed and the nerve agent neutralized, the resulting wastewater is then being shipped to Port Arthur, Texas, one of the poorer and more polluted towns in the state, where it will be incinerated. The only problem, say local activists, is that no one knows whether the VX agent has really been neutralized, and the incinerator smokestacks aren't very well monitored, and it's all very shady, etc. etc.

Anyway, the complaints sounded plausible enough, because what the hell do I know. But the Armchair Generalist has been following this—and other chemical-demilitarization issues—for a long time, and he says there's nothing to see here: The Army has now won 24 federal cases over this issue, and even the National Research Council has okayed the whole neutralize-and-incinerate process. No doubt, Port Arthur has plenty of environmental problems (most ominously, the company that runs the incinerator has had 67 regulatory violations since 2002), but this particular VX disposal method appears reasonable enough.

Well, this might be the first time I've sided with the U.S. Army over the Sierra Club. So it goes. Meanwhile, it's worth trawling through the AG's archives on the subject of "chem demil." There are all sorts of interesting stories about chemical-weapons activists making common cause with senators like Mitch McConnell over the issue, with the latter very high on winning funding to build "alternative" disposal facilities. I'm not sure what the upshot is—besides the fact that actual disposal ends up taking longer and costing more—but it's all very curious.
-- Brad Plumer 3:49 PM || ||