Inside the gate: A WAFF 48 News special report

By Jim Abath- bio | email

HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Redstone Arsenal was a hub for chemical weapons in the 1940's. Three separate military facilities produced weapons like mustard gas and lewisite. After World War II came DDT and rocket fuel.

None of it was produced by the military. All of it was produced by outside companies and in most cases, weapons, chemicals and residues were buried.

Much of that toxic waste remains 24 years after the Environmental Protection Agency issued its first clean-up permit. A look into the EPA's file on Redstone shows lots of studies on individual toxic waste sites, but there aren't nearly as many clean-up operations.

Of the 474 clean-up sites, by the Arsenal's count, 94 are complete. That's less than 20% of the contaminated sites.

"We did some early action back around 2000 to protect people from imminent risks," said Terry De La Paz, Environment Management, Public Works Director for the Arsenal.

She said they've blocked off some areas, put up signs and warned people of any danger. She also said their studies show any danger is in check at this point.

"For current and planned future use on and off the arsenal, there are no unacceptable risks to people," said De La Paz.

WAFF 48 News contacted the EPA in Washington, D.C. to see why more isn't being done and why the process is so slow. They sent this response: "While EPA cannot discuss details of the ongoing enforcement negotiations, we can say that Redstone Arsenal has yet to sign a required oversight agreement which helps ensure public health and environmental protectiveness and is consistent with the EPA/DoD accord of February 2009. It is one of only a few Department of Defense Superfund sites which has failed to do so."

The holdup boils down to a battle between state and federal regulations with Redstone Arsenal and, in turn, our environment in the middle. De La Paz said this has been a problem since the beginning of the program.

That's 1994, when the Arsenal was placed on the national priorities list and told to follow the EPA's regulations. A year later, though, the State of Alabama took the lead and said the Arsenal should follow its regulations.

[Click here for the Redstone Arsenal Superfund site report]

Senator Richard Shelby's office said that if the arsenal follows federal guidelines, the state could come back and require clean-up under their act, and vice versa.

Four weeks ago, the state decided it should take the primary role. So for now, the Arsenal will follow state guidelines.

"But we don't want to ignore the federal requirements," said De La Paz. "So, we've got to try to find a way to meet both sets, and we're hopeful we can find a way to do that at the same time."

De La Paz also said that if there had been just one regulation to follow, the process would have moved a lot faster.

Last year, the Army signed a ten-year, $350 million contract that the arsenal thinks should cover the rest of the projects. That time frame's fine with local Sierra Club member Joseph Imhof.

"I think there's no rush to clean it up at this point," said Imhof. "I mean, there's a lot of sites out there that need to be looked, excavated, et cetera, and I think it's appropriate they're taking their time."

"We've got 75 work plans out with the regulations, trying to get approval to get more rigs and stuff in the field to do more investigations and get things moving quickly," said De La Paz.

The Army and the Secretary of Defense's Office met a few weeks ago, and they may soon propose a new federal facilities agreement to resolve the regulation issue.

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