Citizens discuss Minden explosives burn unit

By Dolores Blalock
Special to The Journal

There was standing room only as about 150 people and three TV cameras filled the meeting room of the Family Center at the First Baptist Church in Doyline on Nov. 14. to attend the Camp Minden Citizens Advisory Group’s monthly meeting.

People came from surrounding communities to speak for and against turning Camp Minden into the site of a permanent explosive toxic waste business. Explosive Services International (ESI) asked to keep the enclosed burn unit in operation after the M-6 disposal is complete in spring 2017; their contract requires the removal of all equipment after the M-6 is gone.

In 2015, before the burn unit was designed, community members, scientists, and government officials decided together the equipment use must to be temporary. They specifically wrote the requirement to remove the burn unit into the contract to keep Camp Minden from becoming a permanent national explosive toxic waste disposal center,

In addition to the citizens, representatives of government agencies attended the Doyline meeting including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from Dallas, the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and the Army National Guard. Officials attending included Senator Ryan Gatti, Representative Gene Reynolds, Director of Webster Homeland Security Jenny Reynolds, and Mayor Tommy Davis, City of Minden.

Louisiana Environmental Action Network, Baton Rouge, and Louisiana Progress, Shreveport, sent representatives.
Contract Requires Removal

Carl Edlund, Director of the Superfund Division of EPA Region 6 says, “At the completion of this removal action the munitions disposal unit and all other equipment used specifically for this disposal will be dismantled and taken away from Camp Minden . At the June 30, 2015 community meeting the selected contractors explained that dismantling and removal were elements of their contract
n addition to being required by the EPA.”

“The emissions from our stack are twice as clean as the air that is currently being breathed by everyone in the community,” says Dean Schellhase, Project Manager for Explosive Services International. “This was demonstrated by the EPA during the comprehensive stack testing in May 2016. This is the cleanest process to dispose of explosives in the world. Using the enclosed burn unit, all M-6 should be destroyed by April or May 2017 depending on the weather.”

“We don’t want a permanent explosive toxic waste dump and disposal center here for the entire U.S. to use,” says Rebecca Sherrard of the Camp Minden Citizens Advisory Group. “We agreed at the beginning this equipment would be moved. It is in the contract for the companies. They knew it at the get go. We are grateful for the great disposal work y’all have done. We were promised this equipment would go. It is temporary. We are annoyed you want talk about this.”

“If the burn unit stays at Camp Minden, this will be safe.” Schellhase says. “The air that comes out is clean. We have the proof. Why tear it down? It is much safer than open burning. No comparison. We’re here and set up at this Superfund site. We put millions of dollars into the economy here and people have good jobs with our company.

“All materials brought here by truck or rail in the future will be safe,” says Jason Poe, ESI Vice-President “The M-6 is unstable. Future materials will be different. They have to be safe in order to be transported. That’s the law.”

“We don’t care if you walk on water and you’re covered in gold, no matter how great a job you do it’s not personal — people just don’t want to be around explosives and poison anymore. It’s not personal against y’all. We have just had enough,” Sherrard says.

“We’re sick, tired, afraid and done with all this,” she continues. “We want a different future for our kids and community. We want clean technical businesses in there or some normal businesses that don’t pollute or threaten us with damage or death. We can’t take it anymore. ”

The people in Doyline and Minden have endured explosions that damaged their houses, ruining some to the point where they had to move out. And there was little-to-no help from insurance or the companies that caused the problems. They have had to evacuate more than once.

And people are sick. It’s hard to prove that air and water pollution did it. But people in Minden donate more money to the St. Jude Children’s Hospital than any other community in Louisiana and this isn’t a rich area. Thyroid problems and cancer rates are higher than government health reports show. Rebecca Sherrard found this out when she actually called surrounding funeral homes and counted the 48 children who died diagnosed with cancer compared to the low numbers (under 10) stated in government reports.

People tell each other stories of friends they know with skin conditions and bright orange toenails. They talk about people who worked at the Louisiana Army Ammunition Plant in the past or who lived near the explosions in 2002, 2007, 2012, and 2016. They want to live in a regular town without concentrated explosive toxic waste. They want a safe place for their kids.

So they want the burn unit removed no matter how good and trailblazing it is and how trustworthy, skilled, and transparent the current operators are. They worry about problems if operators change, or about different emissions if airbags, flares or a variety of explosive toxins are put in a container designed for M-6. For these reasons, hundreds have signed petitions against keeping the burn unit at Camp Minden.

“Hit the road, Jack. So long, it’s been good to know you. We are grateful, but you can’t stay,” they say.

To make the situation more complicated, Camp Minden is a Superfund site where munitions were manufactured at the Louisiana
Army Ammunition Plant located there since World War II. Soil and water were and are already polluted. The recent threat of open burning tons of toxins frightened many residents. They live with constant fear, this nightmare of poison that can explode at any time in their back yard it’s just too much to want to continue. Some see the request to keep the burn unit at Camp Minden and to become a permanent explosive toxic waste site as the last straw.

“We are grateful for the good job Eldorado and Explosive Services International have done,” Rebecca continues. “Thank you for removing the M-6 safely and without polluting. But please, take it on down the road. Do NOT bring in any other explosive waste in here. We have done our time facing terror. We just want some peace and to be left alone to cooperate with the EPA and Army as they work to clean up the aftermath of decades of abuse this place has endured.”

“I hope we can get this settled,” says retired Army Col. Sam Mims, a church pastor.

“Either we allow it or we don’t. I’m on a mission from God. I ain’t got time for all this.”

Future of the Burn Unit

“This is an amazing, trailblazing piece of equipment. It’s like owning the best Cadillac for a year then hauling it to the junkyard while it still works great

This makes no sense,” say people who want to keep the enclosed burn unit at Camp Minden.

“The magic of this technology is the ability to marry the batch operation process of the contained burn chamber to the continuous operating, best-available-technology pollution abatement system,” Schellhase says.

The burn unit and all equipment could be moved and installed at a different location for about $20 million—-around half the original cost required to develop and transport it to Camp Minden. Citizens of Colfax have repeatedly requested good equipment like this enclosed burn unit to halt the pollution caused by outdoor burning of explosive toxic waste at Clean Harbors Colfax.

In summary, the government contract requires removal of the enclosed burn unit and all equipment from Camp Minden after the M-6 is removed.

Background

Eldorado Engineering of Salt Lake City, UT designed the enclosed burn unit. The chamber was fabricated in Oklahoma, and brought to Camp Minden to solve the immediate problem of the safe disposal of 15 million pounds of M-6 propellant and about 300,000 pounds of Clean Burning Igniter. Used to fire heavy artillery, M-6 is composed of some of the most toxic chemicals known; it can auto-ignite and explode at any time.

Chemicals in M-6 of particular concern include:
DNT: (Priority pollutant, this affects blood, nervous system, liver and kidney. The amount of DNT in the original stockpile was estimated at over 1,500,000 lbs.)

DBP: (An endocrine disrupter, DBP causes birth defects, and affects every major system in the body. Original estimate: over 450,000 lbs.)

DPA: (Some compounds are toxic if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Original estimate: over 150,000 lbs.)

Currently, Explosive Services International has disposed of 8.5 million pounds of M-6, and 200,000 pounds of Clean Burning Igniter. They destroy about 50,000 pounds of M-6 daily. Now 36 of the original 93 storage magazines are empty. This was done safely without polluting the air.

On September 29, 2016, Clean Burning Igniter triggered an explosion at Camp Minden destroying 121,000 pounds. In October, the remaining 200,000 pounds were destroyed in two bunkers without injuries or property damage.

Can a Superfund site like Camp Minden become an industrial park that does not include explosives and munitions? This remains a topic of discussion among citizens and officials

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