Fight to stop nerve-agent shipments not over, groups say

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Activists say they will try to get a federal judge to reconsider his decision to allow neutralized nerve agent waste to be trucked from Indiana to Texas. Chief Judge Larry McKinney of U.S. District Court in Indianapolis denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt tanker shipments of caustic wastewater produced by the breakdown of the deadly nerve agent VX. McKinney issued the written ruling Aug. 3.

Plantiffs will seek reconsideration from the judge and will appeal if he denies that, said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, one of the plaintiffs in the suit. Williams’ group argues that shipping this material is prohibited by a 1994 federal law. Government witnesses said the material to be shipped was not considered destroyed, which makes the material a chemical weapon according to international treaty, Williams said.

The U.S. Army could use a much safer method for waste disposal at a plant in Indiana, but decided instead to contract with Veolia Environmental Services in Port Arthur, Texas, said Elizabeth Crow, a spokeswoman for the CWWG and the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. The community of Port Arthur was not given sufficient notice, and whether the Veolia incinerator is even appropriate for this waste type is uncertain, Crow said.

McKinney concluded that the shipments violate no federal or state laws. The Army began trucking the wastewater from Indiana to Texas on April 16 and made 103 shipments, or 25 percent of the shipments anticipated. The Army halted the program June 18 pending McKinney’s decision. Shipments reportedly resumed Aug. 7, four days after the ruling.

The Army noted that it already safely made 1,425 shipments of the same material from Aberdeen, Md., to New Jersey for disposal over three and a half years.

VX, one of the most toxic substances known, was stockpiled by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but the U.S. Army has not made any since the 1960s. A 2005 international treaty requires the United States to destroy all its VX.