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Groups don't want depot waste shipped

RICHMOND — Members of two community advisory groups reiterated their disapproval Tuesday of the off-site shipment of secondary waste created by chemical weapon destruction at the Blue Grass Army Depot.

Members of the Kentucky Citizens' Advisory Commission and Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board have argued that other communities will be put at risk if the hydrolysate is shipped to a commercial facility.

Hydrolysate is a caustic by-product that will be created when the 523 tons of chemical agent — which includes GB, VX and mustard gas — are destroyed.

During the groups' joint quarterly meeting Tuesday at Eastern Kentucky University, the agency responsible for the country's chemical weapons disposal presented findings from studies that describe advantages and disadvantages to off-site hydrolysate shipment.

Kevin Flamm, program manager for Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives, said one study showed that some money would be saved if the byproduct is shipped to a commercial facility. There would also be fewer truckloads of hazardous materials that would enter and leave the depot, he said.

However, off-site shipment could result in 40 to 50 fewer employees at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, the facility at the depot where the weapons will be destroyed, Flamm said.

Craig Williams, the co-chairman of the community advisory board and director of the Berea-based Chemical Weapons Working Group, said the potential economic savings with off-site shipment is small compared to the loss of 40 to 50 employees.

There are also too many variables if the Department of Defense chooses to send the hydrolysate to another facility, Williams said.

"There's uncertainty upon uncertainty upon uncertainty if we go with that plan," he said.

Williams and other members of the community groups also argued during the meeting that changing the current destruction plan could weaken the public's perception of decisions that have been made regarding chemical weapons disposal.

"Frankly, it makes me very worried," said Tammy Clemons, a member of the community advisory board and the sustainability coordinator at Berea College. "I would hate to see this project undermined."

Flamm said he would present his findings and the community groups' opinions to the Office of the Secretary of Defense next week. The office will make a decision about shipment early next year.

Under the current plan, the chemical agents stored at the depot in Madison County will be destroyed by 2023. However, Congress mandated last year that the country's chemical weapon stockpile be destroyed by 2017. The Defense Department will submit a new budget plan in February that would take the congressional deadline into account.