Openly burning hazardous waste at Radford Army Ammunition Plant in Virginia could be causing a plethora of health issues in its surrounding areas – but the Pentagon has done little to stop it, reports ProPublica.
The Radford plant, known as the Arsenal, is one of 51 sites across the country that still openly burns leftover ammunition, excess explosives and other materials, releasing dangerous particles like lead, mercury and chromium into the air. According to the ProPublica report, it is not a coincidence that three of the counties surrounding the Arsenal have among the highest rates of typhoid disease in Virginia.
Disposing of hazardous waste by burning it has been illegal since 1984, but the Department of Defense was allowed to continue the practice until engineers devised an alternate means of disposal, according to ProPublica. More than 30 years later, that still has not happened.
Instead, the Pentagon and the EPA collaborated to develop acceptable emissions standards and permits to regulate how much pollution the plant releases each year. The Department of Defense is adamant its burn sites release minute amounts of particles, not nearly enough to be harmful, according to the report.
However, just from 2011 to 2013, ProPublica reports that the Radford plant failed to report that its smokestack emissions violated EPA regulations 287 times. The plant has been held accountable for more than 50 EPA violations over the past 37 years, according to the report.
“They say look, these emissions factors show this stuff is pretty much harmless,” Charles Hendrickson, a senior EPA remediation project manager who deals with burn sites, told ProPublica. “But if you have a tiny percentage of something that is bad to breathe, or bad to get as fallout on your plants and soil and kids and house, even a tiny percentage of millions of pounds adds up.”
This problem is not confined to Radford, though. According to the report, more than 40 million acres of land nationwide has been contaminated by military facilities burning waste. So far, the Pentagon has spent $42 billion on cleaning up pollution, a figure that will keep rising if nothing is done to control rampant emissions from plants like the Arsenal.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem likely to happen in the near future.
“The Army and other DOD officials don’t have any motivation to push for a change to the way they’ve done it for 70 years,” said Hendrickson. “Open burn and detonation is the cheapest for them.”