Radford Army Ammunition Plant announces drone air quality test results

Perchlorate was not detected during the drone testing

By Rob Manch - Reporter, Rachel Lucas - Anchor / Reporter, Jeff Williamson - Digital Content Manager
Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved

RADFORD, Va. - The Radford Army Ammunition Plant released the preliminary results from drone air quality testing that was taken over open burn sites at the plant in October 2016.

The U.S. Army funded the $300,000 project through a partnership with NASA and Dayton University Research Institute that lasted 10 days. The drone was flown into 84 combustion plumes.

The open burning process of remnant munition has been surrounded by public controversy for years. Health and environmental concerns from the public over the open burning of hazardous wastes prompted the Radford Army Ammunition Plant to launch the testing it said at the time would exchange public fears for facts.

The Army and BAE announced the Open Burning Ground Air (Drone) Sampling Data for the plant at a public meeting at the Christiansburg Public Library Wednesday.

The drone used during testing was flown through the plumes of smoke that come from those open burn sites. Results from the testing revealed that more than 90 percent of the new emission factors captured during the testing are lower than previously published emission factors or not found at all. 

Those new and improved emission factors will be used as RAAP undergoes its permit renewal process.

“This data will be used to ensure permit limits are protective of human health and the environment,” said Justine Barati, director of Public and Congressional Affairs Joint Munitions Command.

 "All of the emission factors will be evaluated as part of the Human Health and Ecological Risk Assessment. The next step in the permit renewal process is to work with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality to complete the risk assessment and create permit conditions.  New permit limits will not be developed until the risk assessment is complete," said Rob Davie, the Radford Army Ammunition Plant deputy to the commander.

An important result from the testing that was noted by RAAP was that perchlorate was not detected during the drone testing. Perchlorates are colorless salts that have no odor. High levels of perchlorates can affect the thyroid gland, which in turn can alter the function of many organs in the body, according to the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. Perchlorate is a chemical that is sometimes associated with cancer. Many activists have accused RAAP of burning this material despite reassurance from RAAP leaders that perchlorates are not used.

According to RAAP, the results did show a minimal increase in emission factors in arsenic, lead and some metals. But Deputy Cmdr. Rob Davie said the danger that actually poses to the community might be exaggerated by the tests.

"We were intentionally loading up in a way that we could get results that would be at the very edge, so that's what we were doing, but we wouldn't typically see that in normal operation," said Davie.

"We are pleased that the sampling technology worked and provides Radford Army Ammunition Plant with a new data source," said Lt. Col. James Scott, Radford Army Ammunition Plant commander.

Radford Army Ammunition Plant is also in the process of designing a new Explosive Waste Incinerator.  This is a multimillion dollar effort that will reach 90 percent design completion in December 2017.

The plant employees are also taking steps to reduce the energetic waste stream through ongoing employee training on efforts to reduce waste generation; researching ways to safely reduce the size of propellants to be treated at the incinerator; exploring efforts within the Army to reduce or eliminate lead in propellants; and developing alternative efforts to handle waste to include repurposing of materials.

Correction: The original article stated that arsenic was found to be 37 times the concentration of what the EPA says is safe and that lead was found to be 5 times the concentration of what the EPA says is safe. The most recent article was updated to reflect that the arsenic emission factor was found to be 37.5 times higher than the previous emission factor and that lead was found to be 5 times higher than the previous emission factor. This number is not related to guidelines set by the EPA.

Copyright 2017 by WSLS 10 - All rights reserved.