Tuesday, September 2, 2008

AG Sues U.S. Department of Defense on Behalf of DPHE

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment today filed suit in U.S. District Court requesting the court require the U.S. Department of Defense, its Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment Program and the Department of the Army to treat and destroy chemical weapons stored at the Pueblo Chemical Depot by Dec. 31, 2017.

The lawsuit comes after the respondents notified the state of their intention to appeal an Administrative Order issued by the state on June 17, 2008.

The lawsuit requests the court grant the same remedies as were indicated in the order. The state’s order called for the destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile by Dec. 31, 2017, four years earlier than the Department of Defense’s current proposed date of Dec. 31, 2021. The order also required that secondary waste currently stored under a separate permit be treated and destroyed by the same date of Dec. 31, 2017.

“Given recurring delays by the Department of Defense for completing treatment and destruction of these wastes, the division is seeking an enforceable schedule for their timely treatment," Gary Baughman, director of the Hazardous Materials and Waste Management Division at the state Department of Public Health and Environment,
said. "We believe the 2017 deadline is more than reasonable to complete treatment and
destruction of the chemical weapons.”

The order and the lawsuit both require the military to file a chemical waste treatment plan within 60 days of the effective date of the final decision.

This plan will describe the methods to be used to treat and destroy all hazardous waste weapons and other agent wastes at the Pueblo Chemical Depot.

A chemical waste treatment plan also requires a complete project schedule depicting the tasks required for the destruction of the wastes by Dec. 31, 2017. Some of these tasks then could be designated by DPHE as enforceable milestones in the waste treatment plan.

The chemical weapons contain mustard agent, an acutely toxic hazardous waste causing severe skin and lung inflammation, which is known to cause cancer and birth defects.

Long-term storage of hazardous waste is prohibited under state hazardous waste regulations, except when additional quantities of the waste are required to facilitate proper treatment or when an alternate schedule for its treatment is in place under a compliance order.

According to the compliance order, the mustard agent-filled weapons are not being stored for the purpose of accumulating adequate quantities for appropriate treatment, as the Pueblo Chemical Depot currently stores hundreds of thousands of waste chemical weapons at the site.

In 2002, the Department of Defense decided to destroy weapons at the Pueblo Depot by chemically neutralizing the mustard agent and then biologically treating the resulting waste. A contractor was selected to design and build the facility, the first phase of Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant permitting was completed, and construction of the plant was scheduled to begin. Under the initial design and operating plans for the facility, destruction of the chemical weapons
would have been completed by April 29, 2012.

However, in the fall of 2004 the Department of Defense terminated the design and construction plans for the facility and ordered that the facility be redesigned to meet a lower cost estimate. The contractor subsequently redesigned the facility to the lower cost estimate in 2005 and provided the Department of Defense with an implementation schedule to complete weapons destruction in nine years.

Despite previous security and safety concerns related to long-term storage of the weapons in Pueblo, the Department of Defense lengthened the time for completing weapons destruction in order to cut costs. Current Department of Defense-generated treatment schedules for destruction of the mustard weapons at the Pueblo Chemical Depot extend out as far as 2021.

State health department representatives have been working with the Army and Defense Department to bring storage of the chemical weapons in the stockpile into compliance with the regulations. The parties also have been working with the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives Program to design, construct and permit the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, where the chemical weapons will be treated.