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BAE Systems wants to alter its groundwater monitoring, and held a gathering that included a vocal outburst from a member of an environmental group.
Tuesday, April 23, 2013
FAIRLAWN — A meeting called to air concerns about pollution monitoring at the Radford Army Ammunition Plant ended Tuesday with plant officials and state regulators battling to be heard over an environment activist who refused to give up a microphone.
“Our water’s not being tested for the contaminants that are in the ground there,” said Devawn Oberlender of the Environmental Patriots of the New River Valley, a local group that has worked to draw attention to the arsenal’s handling of toxic substances.
As Oberlender spoke over several attempts to answer her — or perhaps to just end the meeting — Alicia Gray, a spokeswoman for BAE Systems, the private company that operates the federally owned propellant plant, took another microphone.
“It seems like we’ve devolved a little bit,” Gray said as Oberlender continued to speak. “We’ve got multiple conversations going on. … Thanks for coming tonight.”
No decisions were made at Tuesday’s session at the New River Valley Business Center in Pulaski County. It was called by BAE Systems as a required part of a request to modify a state environmental permit. BAE Systems wants to change its groundwater monitoring around the open burning ground. The burning ground is a spot on the banks of the New River where workers for 70 years have incinerated explosive waste from the arsenal’s operations, torching it in flat metal pans.
Representatives from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, which must eventually decide whether to grant BAE Systems’ request, told the audience of about 40 people that comments could also be sent directly to state regulators. Comments to DEQ should be addressed to Environmental Engineer Senior Russell McAvoy at email@example.com or at Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, 629 E. Main St., Richmond, VA 23219, or at phone 804-698-4194 or fax 804-698-4234.
At Tuesday’s 90-minute meeting, many of the comments revolved around two related issues. First was BAE Systems’ earlier request — now withdrawn — to increase the concentration of chromium in waste that was burned.
Bob Winstead, BAE Systems’ environmental manager at the plant, said the request was being put off until the entire permit comes up for renewal in April 2015. He and other arsenal officials said the goal was to increase flexibility for waste disposal, not to increase emissions of chromium, which leaches from steel vessels during the propellant-making process. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering designating it as a human carcinogen.
Rob Davie, chief of operations at the plant, explained that arsenal officials are trying to phase out the burning ground and are disposing of less waste there each year.
The second issue was environmental testing around the plant. Jennifer Grover said she wonders about the greasy dust that turns up in her household. “It might not be from the arsenal, but it might be, and having lost two family members to lung disease, I’m concerned,” Grover said.
Arsenal officials answered that to date, there has been no dust-testing program.
Other residents asked about water, and several separate testing situations quickly emerged.
First, a system of testing wells — the subject of BAE System’s permit change request — is maintained around the open burning ground, said Mike Lawless, a vice president at Blacksburg-based Draper Aden Associates who leads the arsenal’s groundwater monitoring.
But private wells that supply drinking water at properties around the plant are not tested by the arsenal. Winstead said arsenal officials would consider any recommendations on this made by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which earlier this year began a study of drinking water issues around the plant.
And after the meeting, Winstead said that yes, as Oberlender had said, there is no testing for industrial chemicals or arsenal-specific pollutants in the two arsenal water systems that supply drinking water for the plant, parts of Pulaski County and previously Montgomery County. This water is tested the same as any drinking water in Virginia — for bacteria, solids, and for a list of metals such as lead. But chemicals used in the making of explosives are not on the list, Winstead said.
The intakes for the arsenal’s drinking water systems are in the New River upstream from the open burning ground and most plant operations, Winstead said. A downstream intake that was previously used has been closed for years.
Groundwater monitoring shows no dangerous levels of pollutants that would threaten drinking water systems, Winstead said.
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