Madison County

Group backs changes in hazard designation of some Blue Grass Army Depot wastes

An exterior view of an igloo storing chemical weapons at Blue Grass Army Depot.
An exterior view of an igloo storing chemical weapons at Blue Grass Army Depot.

RICHMOND — Two citizens panels endorsed changes Wednesday that would change the hazard classifications of shipments of some waste related to the destruction of chemical weapons at Blue Grass Army Depot.

The Chemical Demilitarization Citizens' Advisory Commission and the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board recommended modifying the manifest codes displayed on trucks transporting wastes that have not been in contact with nerve or blister agents.

The changes would have to be approved by the state, either through administrative regulations or by the legislature.

The modifications would apply only to materials that have met an applicable treatment standard and that pose no hazard to the public.

State law says any waste derived from chemical agents must be classified as a chemical agent. Sarin and VX, deadly nerve agents, and mustard, a blister agent, all carry the hazard code "H," designating those as "acute hazardous wastes."

Under the proposed changes, those agents would continue to have that code, but new codes would be assigned to rocket motors, laboratory wastes and other parts and waste streams not contaminated by nerve and blister agents. Such wastes will have to be sent elsewhere because there is no landfill at the depot.

Assignment of new waste codes means the proper labeling and marking of shipping containers would provide more accurate information to emergency responders if an accident occurred during shipment, said Craig Williams, co-chairman of the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board.

"You can imagine what would happen," Williams said. "Let's say they're shipping some sort of waste that's been neutralized or it's been decontaminated or it never touched any agent. If it has the (current) waste code and a truck goes into a ditch somewhere in Tennessee, and they have to respond based on that waste code, they're going to start evacuating people, and responders won't be able to respond without chemical warfare agent gear, which they probably don't have. It could be a real nightmare."

Information about the proposed new waste codes was submitted in June to the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection.

The recommendations were made with the caveat by the citizens groups that "stakeholders will continue to have meaningful and direct involvement in the process, have ample opportunity to be heard, and preserve the option, on an item-by-item basis, to recommend maintaining ... the current waste codes in specific cases."

The codes might be changed simply through administrative regulations. However, if that can't be done, the state legislature will consider making changes to existing law when it convenes in January.

Construction of the plant was finished this summer, but it will take four years of equipment testing before the first weapons with nerve agents will be destroyed in 2020.