Since World War I, hundreds of thousands of individual chemical warfare materiel (CWM) items—at approximately 250 sites in 30 U.S. states and two territories—were buried and remain largely unaddressed. Of most concern are those sites in residential areas.
The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academies of Science (NAS), today released a report, Remediation of Buried Chemical Warfare Materiel, recommending significant changes to the current approach for identifying and destroying buried chemical munitions and related CWM removed during environmental remediation projects. Pepper attorney William J. Walsh, who has served on a dozen NAS committees over the years, served as a member of the committee that prepared the report.
The NAS report examines important technological, organizational, and regulatory complexities facing the United States Army in the task of locating and disposing of the CWM. The report:
- identifies several areas where existing technology could be used, and recommends ways to alleviate some technological problems that have arisen, such as using robotic systems to access and remove buried CWM
- recommends that the Office of the Secretary of Defense and the Army each select a single office to manage and fund remediation activities and the establishment of a new position at the level of the senior executive service (civilian) or a general officer (military) to lead the program
- recommends as a “matter of urgency” increased funding to complete the inventories of known and suspected buried chemical munitions (by no later than 2013) and the development a quantitative basis to determine the overall funding for the program
- describes the case-by-case remedy selection process used for the environmental remediation of hazardous waste and munitions, with an emphasis on how the regulatory approach to buried CWMs may differ from the approach used for hazardous waste or non-chemical munitions
- includes a case study that provides an exemplar on how to apply these technological and regulatory recommendations at Redstone Arsenal facility in Alabama – the site anticipated to have the largest quantity of buried CWM in the United States.
The remediation of these buried CWMs is expected to cost billions of dollars over several years.