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Monday, Feb. 2, 2015

EXPLODING ARGUMENTS

Camp Minden needs to be dealt with now

I believe that many of us share a declining faith in the rapid and rational response of agencies of the federal government to serious issues, but the Environmental Protection Agency’s and to some extent, the U.S. Army’s, response to handling the destruction of 15 million pounds of military propellants at Camp Minden ought to represent a whole new low in federal response to a critical and dangerous issue.

We should all have a strong opinion about this issue; we should all strongly voice that opinion for the following reasons.

In October 2012 and as a result of the explosion of a storage bunker at Camp Minden, federal and state officials became aware that Army contractor Explo Systems was improperly storing 15 million pounds of M6 propellant – a circumstance that required the residents of Doyline to evacuate their town for over a week.

An EPA report details subsequent actions to secure the propellant, the bankruptcy declaration by Explo Systems, and the Louisiana National Guard’s resulting ownership of the propellant and an Oct. 28 agreement among the parties involved to destroy the propellant through open burning. Those parties include the Louisiana National Guard, U.S. Department of the Army, and Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

After the decision was made to burn the propellant, the Minden area public and public officials began asking questions about the safety of this process of destroying the propellant. At about the same time LSU-S chemistry instructor Brian Salvatore became an important voice in the issue, advising that the chemicals found in the propellant could put the community at risk.

Public response to the planned method of destroying the propellant caused EPA Region 6 officials to back up and observe that elected officials and members of the public had not been afforded an opportunity to be involved. On Jan. 15, the EPA granted a 90-day extension to allow consideration of other methods of disposal of the propellant.

While this delay for destruction is a positive move, it’s not necessarily reassuring.

In a separate “Camp Minden Questions and Answers” EPA document (available online), a troubling “deadline” of sorts for destroying the propellant is described by the following responses to questions:

“The Department of Army Explosive Safety Board experts found materials to be in a severely deteriorated state and warned of potential self-ignition risk as soon as August 2015.

The Army Explosives Safety Board advised that deterioration of M6 propellant could greatly increase the risk of explosion by August 2015.”

Clearly, this issue needs speedy, thoughtful, and above all a safe resolution. But according to a Jan. 19 Minden Press-Herald article, it’s possible that the use of an alternate disposal method for the M6 propellant will void the current agreement and force the parties to renegotiate a new one and could result in the loss of federal funding necessary to safely destroy the deteriorating propellant.

This would constitute an inexcusable delay in resolving a critical safety and health issue in Northwest Louisiana.

“I am tired of these agencies throwing press bombs at each other rather than putting their big-boy and girl britches on and sitting down to talk and solve this problem,” said state Rep. Gene Reynolds, D-Minden to the Minden Press-Herald. “We need assurances that we maintain the federal funding, gain the right to have input in the decision and are provided the evidence needed to ensure a safe and expeditious disposal. The clock is ticking; and we didn’t make this mess.”

At this point in the inexplicable way this issue has been handled, we should all be echoing Gene Reynolds.

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