The closed chamber burning of 16 million pounds of munitions accelerant is weeks away from being completed at Camp Minden. That work, led by the Concerned Citizens of Camp Minden, prevented a potential public health disaster from unfolding in northwest Louisiana. That threat grew out of the U.S. Army’s plan to burn the explosive materials in the open air — 80,000 pounds per day for 200 days.
Camp Minden is east of Shreveport in Webster Parish. Wind would have carried the contaminated fallout from the burning in any direction on any given day. Dr. Brian Salvatore recognized the threat and spoke out. He galvanized the community against the open burn. It sparked a grassroots movement that succeeded in getting the Army to change its plans — and to pay for it.
The notion that an open burn of those materials could be carried out was not new. It had happened in other communities with Army munitions depots over the years. Some communities fought for safer disposal methods and prevailed. The Concerned Citizens of Camp Minden connected into that network of community activists and experts, engaged local and state governmental leaders. They engaged the EPA as well as members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation which, ironically, was home to some of harsh critics of the agency.
The burning method that was selected as the disposal mechanism offered the most reliable, proven method of disposal of the material Dr. Salvatore explains in our conversation. But, it’s not perfect. He points out that the monitoring of the exhaust from the burn process is not highly refined, that there is no analysis of the amount of individual chemicals emitted after the burn. But, he says its a vast improvement over the open burn operation.
This being Louisiana, a group in the region now sees a business opportunity with the Camp Minden burn unit and wants to make it permanent. That would make Camp Minden a hazardous waste destination, with toxic materials of all kinds being shipped there through the region to be burned.
It is typical for Louisiana which, dating at least as far back as the Mike Foster administration, has had as official state policy to take the wastes that others don’t want for disposal here.
The most glaring early example of this was when an Exxon drilling operation at the mouth of Mobile Bay failed in the mid-1990s. The company had a large amount of hazardous waste on its hands that it needed to eliminate. Alabama officials would not allow the company to dispose of the materials in their state. Instead, the materials were hauled by truck to the Lafourche Parish community of Grand Bois in 1998.
Dr. Mike Robichaux of Raceland was a member of the Louisiana Senate at that time. Grand Bois was in his district. He sought to have the legislature block the importation of hazardous wastes into Louisiana and was roundly defeated with the help of Governor Foster and the oil, gas and petrochemical industries. He succeeded in bringing national attention to the plight of the citizens there, as well as to the misclassification of “normative oilfield wastes” as non-hazardous.
The push to establish Camp Minden as a permanent hazardous waste disposal facility is as short-sighted as burying oilfield wastes in land that is a more membrane than either land or marsh as was the case in Grand Bois. Despite having near state-of-the-art technology in place at Camp Minden, there is little doubt that some toxins (hopefully in safe levels) have been released during the months of burning that will soon end.
Prolonged exposure to toxins and carcinogens over time is the course that sometimes leads to cancer and other diseases. We already have numerous examples of this in Louisiana now. Here’s one. Here’s another. This report is about Calcasieu Parish. This is about mercury contamination of water here. Where does your electricity come from?
What those examples above have in common is that for much of the time the pollution and contamination was taking place, there was little or no public awareness of the processes at work. Anyone who proposes to put a permanent hazardous waste incineration facility in a community under the guise of jobs and community benefits is engaged in a special kind of cynicism.
For too long the problem in Louisiana has been that our elected officials and those who claim to regulate industry have been willing to allow the poisoning of some of us as a means of enriching a few of us. If we are going to leave a state that our children and future generations can inhabit, that must stop.
A new fight has erupted over Camp Minden. The good news is that the good people who defeated the Army and the EPA should be able to handle this skirmish.
Thanks to Matt Roberts, AOC’s Community Programming Director for help locating the music used in this segment.
A Foolish Game by Hans Atom (c) copyright 2017 Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Noncommercial (3.0) license. http://dig.ccmixter.org/files/hansatom/55394 Ft: Snowflake