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VX disposal debate:
Facility would get $9 million infusion, 12 new jobs

April 26, 2003

Patricia L. Pastore
Terra Haute Tribune-Star

TERRA HAUTE, IN -- The president of an organic wastewater treatment plant in Terre Haute says his facility could safely treat the byproduct of VX disposal.

Wabash Environmental Technologies would get a $9 million infusion and 12 new jobs with an average salary of $30,000 or more annually if picked to treat the wastes created by VX neutralization, said Derrik Hagerman, president.

The Army has already selected a site for treatment of the waste -- in Dayton, Ohio -- but Dayton's citizens are battling that decision on environmental grounds. VX, a deadly nerve agent, is stored in containers near Newport.

Hagerman said transportation costs are less for moving the waste from Newport to Terre Haute and there is less opportunity for an accident on the highway because his plant could accept one tanker a day.

Tankers hauling the waste have a straight shot down Indiana 63 during the night when traffic is light, he said.

"That's about 25 miles instead of hauling it 195 miles to Ohio," he said. "We'd hire lab technicians and people trained to handle this type of high pH waste."

W.E.T. operates the plant at 1331 S. First Street under 40 Code of Federal Regulations 437 (Organics Subcategory, centralized waste treatment), Hagerman said. A Code of Federal Regulations exemption would allow it to treat hydrolysate for reuse.

He said the treatment plant has a capacity of over 6 million gallons, designed to treat up to 1.9 million gallons per day of organic waste waters, and is permitted to discharge 8,867 gallons per day. This plant is about 15 to 20 times larger than the one they picked, he said.

"W.E.T is the second largest organic treatment facility in the United States," Hagerman said. "Only Dupont in Deepwater, New Jersey is larger."

California-based Parsons, Inc., under contract with the Army, is building a neutralization plant at the Newport Chemical Depot, where 1,269 tons of VX is stockpiled. Parsons must dispose of the 900,000 gallons of hydrolysate, the waste product created by VX destruction.

The subcontract, valued at $9 million, for the treatment of VX neutralization waste was awarded to Perma-Fix Environmental Services Inc., of Dayton, said John Stewart, Parsons site project manager.

A group of citizens of Dayton filed an environmental justice complaint last week against the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Defense concerning the Army's plan to dispose of the VX neutralization byproduct at Perma-Fix hazardous-waste plant.

Perma-Fix is in the Drexel neighborhood, which has a 33 percent poverty rate and is 35 percent black. The complaint contends bringing hydrolysate to an impoverished neighborhood with a large percentage of minorities is a form of discrimination based on income and race.

Federal law prohibits federal agencies from taking any action that would have a disproportionate environmental impact on low-income neighborhoods with high minority populations, the complaint said. Newport has a poverty level of 9 percent and no black residents.

Hagerman claims his treatment plant was eliminated from consideration without the opportunity of providing Parsons with a proposal.

His answers on a survey form furnished by Parsons completed in May 2002 centered around the hydrolysate being classified, treated, and disposed of as a hazardous waste, he said.

"The survey was one-sided towards hazardous waste and hazardous waste treatment facilities and did not take into account that nonhazardous facilities such as W.E.T. could accept hydrolysate for beneficial reuse in place of a commodity product," he wrote Feb. 20 in a letter to Jim Mars, Army contracting officer.

"W.E.T. is very interested in accepting the hydrolysate for beneficial reuse," the letter said. "We are requesting Parsons reconsider their decision to exclude W.E.T. . . . and allow W.E.T. the opportunity of providing Parsons with our proposal for reusing the hydrolysate for pH control in our 6 million gallon capacity treatment plant."

Hagerman failed to mention the Code of Federal Regulations exception when he answered the survey because he believed the government and its contractor were aware of it, he said. In the survey, he had checked a box that said he wasn't interested in treating the hydrolysate, he said.

"When we first answered the survey, we thought the Army and Parsons would look at the Code of Federal Regulations exemption that allows us to use hydrolysate under the beneficial reuse option," Hagerman said. He said hydrolysate, although caustic with a pH of about 14, could be substituted for a commercial product to regulate the pH in tanks at his facility.

"Instead of me buying acids or caustics for pH control we'd use spent waste like the hydrolysate for beneficial reuse," he said. "Any treatment facility can recycle hazardous waste for beneficial reuse. It's already mentioned in the United States Environmental Protection Agency law. We work with the EPA and IDEM (Indiana Department of Environmental Management) a lot. That is what the EPA wants you to do with this type of waste."

Alkaline solutions with a pH of 14 are something Hagerman works with daily.

"We used sodium hydroxide with a pH of 14 that is hauled to us weekly by Ulrich Chemical Company," he said. The waste treatment plant is so safe that his wife and children often spend weekends at the 60-acre facility enjoying the wildlife refuge and just roaming the woodlands and grasslands.

"Safety is our number one concern," Hagerman said. "My family, Carole 4, Audrey 5, Drake, 7 and Kyle, 20 enjoy leisure time just roaming around here. I've got 22 year's experience treating wastes and I believe this a very safe operation. We operate a complete environmental testing laboratory for compliance testing and waste water profiling."

Parsons based its decision to exclude W.E.T. from the mix of waste treatment plants considered by it for this job because of Hagerman's answers in the initial survey.

"He never once mentioned that he had an exemption to the [Code of Federal Regulations]," Mars said. "The February letter from W.E.T. signed by Hagerman was received by Parsons after the contract had been awarded. The question on the survey asked, 'Can you handle hazardous waste?' W.E.T. said no. The CFR exemption was not mentioned in his initial survey answers."

The Army and Parsons is continuing down the Perma-Fix path, Mars said Friday.

"This is a complete process and everybody got to put in their 2 cents worth," he said. "I can't comment on the environmental complaint. We are marching ahead and I can't worry about what might happen."

The Army and Parsons need to take another look at Wabash Environmental Technologies in the event the citizens of Ohio are successful in prohibiting hydrolysate from entering their state, said State Rep. Brooks LaPlante, R-Terre Haute.

"I'm not surprised by the reaction we are seeing from the citizens of Ohio," LaPlante said. "We've had this on our back door for over 30 years. It's not just the issue of the Ohio citizens not wanting it, the tanker trucks carrying it must have an escort and it has to be driven clear through the state of Indiana and probably through Indianapolis. It's nasty stuff that is caustic. It could be handled at W.E.T. which is 25 miles from the Chemical Depot. W.E.T. is a much larger facility and truly has the capacity and process required to do the job. The treatment needed for the VX waste is something Derrik Hagerman does every day, day in and day out. It is a tragedy they got overlooked. I'm hoping Parsons and the Army will reconsider W.E.T. I think it would be the best solution for everybody."

Had Hagerman initially mentioned the CFR exemption in his initial response to the questions Parsons asked in the survey "we would have investigated it," Mars said.

He said the government is unsure if W.E.T. has all the business base it needs to be successful.

The U.S. government is concerned that a business have the right kind of resources, comply with safety regulations, meet treaty and environmental requirements and have the financial ability to meet the capacity of work to be done, Mars said.

"There are a lot of things to look at when we do business with any contractor," he said.

If Perma-Fix is stopped from treating the hydrolysate, Parsons will re-evaluate the number of options available before proceeding with the neutralization of VX, said Jeff Brubaker, government site project manager. He said one of the options is storing or treating the hydrolysate on site.

"If another treatment, storage and disposal facility is selected, it must be like Perma-Fix and have the necessary regulated permits from the state," Brubaker said.

Perma-Fix is a competent company with the technology and equipment needed to treat the hydrolysate.

"Perma-Fix will do a good job for the Army," Hagerman said. "They have the technology to do the job and I'm confident they can do it well. I've worked with Perma-Fix and know how they operate. I just wish we'd had the opportunity to show Parsons and the Army what we can do."

Patricia Pastore can be reached at (812)231-4271 or pat.pastore@tribstar.com

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