PUEBLO • Local members of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission said they are “out of patience” with the Pentagon’s latest plan to ship another 250,000 gallons of contaminated water to Texas and not neutralize it at the chemical demilitarization plant at Pueblo Chemical Depot.
“From day one, we’ve told you we don’t like transporting (waste off-site),” Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart told officials from the Pentagon’s Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative program.
“We told you once you open that Pandora’s box, transportation will become (your) preferred way to dispose of the hydrolysate and you’ve promised us repeatedly that wouldn’t happen,” Hart said at a meeting this week with Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative officials and operators of the Pueblo Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant.
This would mark the third time in a year that contaminated hydrolysate — the water used to neutralize mustard agent weapons — would be shipped off the Pueblo site for disposal in Texas. It would bring the amount of shipped waste to nearly 750,000 gallons.
The new demilitarization plant is designed to both destroy mustard-agent weapons and the contaminated water that results. The plant has had a stop-and-start record in the past year but is now destroying several hundred howitzer rounds a day.
What isn’t working as fast is the neutralizing process for the hydrolysate, so the contaminated water coming out of the destruction plant is being stored on site. Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative officials want to empty the tanks and ship another 250,000 gallons to Texas for disposal.
Hart and other members of the citizens advisory group — Irene Kornelly, Dr. Velma Campbell and John Norton — challenged that this week, pointing to the plant’s production figures.
“Why can’t you slow down your (destruction process) until you’ve been able to take care of the 250,000 gallons you have in your storage tanks?” asked Kornelly, chairwoman of the citizens commission.
Plant officials gave answers about wanting to keep the plant operating at a high rate of efficiency, but ultimately they acknowledged the timetable could be adjusted to reduce the amount of hydrolystate being produced to a manageable level.
“Frankly, our patience is gone,” Hart told the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative officials. “We don’t want to see any trucks driving away from this plant.”
It took decades for Pentagon, state and local officials to reach agreement on building a water-neutralization plant at the Pueblo Chemical Depot for dealing with the thousands of old Cold War mustard-agent weapons stored there.
Early in the discussions, state and local officials insisted they didn’t want old-fashioned incinerators built at the Pueblo depot to burn up old weapons. And they didn’t want any hazardous waste being trucked onto or off of the site.
Thus, all parties agreed on the $4 billion PCAPP plant that now is operating.
The citizens committee doesn’t have veto power over the Pentagon’s decision-making process but they do have the ear of Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner, as well as Rep. Scott Tipton, who represents Pueblo and the 3rd District.
“What we can do is raise hell,” Norton said.