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Community members in Colfax, Louisiana are dealing with an unconventional form of potential environmental contamination – outfall from the open air burning of hazardous explosive waste. The town of Colfax is the site of a commercial facility called Clean Harbors, which stores and treats energetic/reactive waste, whether it is solid, sludge or liquid. From fireworks to bulk high explosives to rocket motors, the facility is a storehouse for potentially explosive material.
This burning is, in fact, permitted by the US EPA, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), which governs disposal and treatment of hazardous waste. There is a permit modification pending, which would increase the current threshold for open-air burning of explosives-contaminated waste from 480,000 pounds to over 2 million pounds per year. The permit is for dealing with waste that cannot be handled in any other manner.
Truth-out.org reported last month on a similar issue at Camp Minden, Louisiana. The Camp Minden military facility, which was storing, in addition to other materials, 42,000 pounds of a propellant used for firing heavy artillery, experienced an explosion in 2012 that resulted in “a 7,000-foot mushroom cloud” and damage to nearby homes and buildings. In this scenario, burning is seen as an emergency plan to prevent future explosions, but the outdated burning process is raising concerns of environmental pollution from munitions burning.
A coalition of twenty-nine organizations has formed in response to the issue, ranging from coast to coast and including groups in thirteen states. The groups are objecting to both the current operations at the Clean Harbors facility, and to the expansion of the facility’s permit to allow greater amounts of waste to be burned.
According to the coalition, Colfax is only one of many communities – about 100 total – that are facing this issue. Truth-out.org also reports that munitions burning is far from just a Louisiana issue. In the early 1990s, community activists halted a plan to burn military waste in Merrimac, Wisconsin. The breadth of the coalition behind the Cease Fire campaign speaks to the universality of this problem.
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