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“The Stupid…It burns!”

2017/08/02

When the intellectuals lose their self-control and courage and are possessed only by their fears and emotions, the power of those with prejudice and stupidity gains.


“‘The organizer’s first job is to create the issues or problems,’ and ‘organizations must be based on many issues.’ The organizer ‘must first rub raw the resentments of the people of the community; fan the latent hostilities of many of the people to the point of overt expression. He must search out controversy and issues, rather than avoid them, for unless there is controversy people are not concerned enough to act.…An organizer must stir up dissatisfaction and discontent.’” –Saul Alinsky

Now for the rest of the story.

Open Burns, Ill Winds

ProPublica | Bombs in Our Backyard

The Pentagon’s handling of munitions and their waste has poisoned millions of acres, and left Americans to guess at the threat to their health.

RADFORD, Virginia — Shortly after dawn most weekdays, a warning siren rips across the flat, swift water of the New River running alongside the Radford Army Ammunition Plant. Red lights warning away boaters and fishermen flash from the plant, the nation’s largest supplier of propellant for artillery and the source of explosives for almost every American bullet fired overseas.

Along the southern Virginia riverbank, piles of discarded contents from bullets, chemical makings from bombs, and raw explosives — all used or left over from the manufacture and testing of weapons ingredients at Radford — are doused with fuel and lit on fire, igniting infernos that can be seen more than a half a mile away. The burning waste is rich in lead, mercury, chromium and compounds like nitroglycerin and perchlorate, all known health hazards. The residue from the burning piles rises in a spindle of hazardous smoke, twists into the wind and, depending on the weather, sweeps toward the tens of thousands of residents in the surrounding towns.

Nearby, Belview Elementary School has been ranked by researchers as facing some of the most dangerous air-quality hazards in the country. The rate of thyroid diseases in three of the surrounding counties is among the highest in the state, provoking town residents to worry that emissions from the Radford plant could be to blame. Government authorities have never studied whether Radford’s air pollution could be making people sick, but some of their hypothetical models estimate that the local population faces health risks exponentially greater than people in the rest of the region.

More than three decades ago, Congress banned American industries and localities from disposing of hazardous waste in these sorts of “open burns,” concluding that such uncontrolled processes created potentially unacceptable health and environmental hazards. Companies that had openly burned waste for generations were required to install incinerators with smokestacks and filters and to adhere to strict limits on what was released into the air. Lawmakers granted the Pentagon and its contractors a temporary reprieve from those rules to give engineers time to address the unique aspects of destroying explosive military waste.

That exemption has remained in place ever since, even as other Western countries have figured out how to destroy aging armaments without toxic emissions. While American officials are mired in a bitter debate about how much pollution from open burns is safe, those countries have pioneered new approaches. Germany, for example, destroyed hundreds of millions of pounds of aging weapons from the Cold War without relying on open burns to do it.

In the United States, outdoor burning and detonation is still the military’s leading method for dealing with munitions and the associated hazardous waste. It has remained so despite a U.S. Senate resolution a quarter of a century ago that ordered the Department of Defense to halt the practice “as soon as possible.” It has continued in the face of a growing consensus among Pentagon officials and scientists that similar burn pits at U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan sickened soldiers.

Federal records identify nearly 200 sites that have been or are still being used to open-burn hazardous explosives across the country. Some blow up aging stockpile bombs in open fields. Others burn bullets, weapons parts and — in the case of Radford — raw explosives in bonfire-like piles. The facilities operate under special government permits that are supposed to keep the process safe, limiting the release of toxins to levels well below what the government thinks can make people sick. Yet officials at the Environmental Protection Agency, which governs the process under federal law, acknowledge that the permits provide scant protection.

Consider Radford’s permit, which expired nearly two years ago. Even before then, government records show, the plant repeatedly violated the terms of its open burn allowance and its other environmental permits. In a typical year, the plant can spew many thousands of pounds of heavy metals and carcinogens — legally — into the atmosphere. But Radford has, at times, sent even more pollution into the air than it is allowed. It has failed to report some of its pollution to federal agencies, as required. And it has misled the public about the chemicals it burns. Yet every day the plant is allowed to ignite as much as 8,000 pounds of hazardous debris.

“It smells like plastic burning, but it’s so much more intense,” said Darlene Nester, describing the acrid odor from the burns when it reaches her at home, about a mile and a half away. Her granddaughter is in second grade at Belview. “You think about all the kids.”

Internal EPA records obtained by ProPublica show that the Radford plant is one of at least 51 active sites across the country where the Department of Defense or its contractors are today burning or detonating munitions or raw explosives in the open air, often in close proximity to schools, homes and water supplies. The documents — EPA PowerPoint presentations made to senior agency staff — describe something of a runaway national program, based on “a dirty technology” with “virtually no emissions controls.” According to officials at the agency, the military’s open burn program not only results in extensive contamination, but “staggering” cleanup costs that can reach more than half a billion dollars at a single site.

The sites of open burns — including those operated by private contractors and the Department of Energy — have led to 54 separate federal Superfund declarations and have exposed the people who live near them to dangers that will persist for generations.

In Grand Island, Nebraska, groundwater plumes of explosive residues spread more than 20 miles away from the Cornhusker Army Ammunition Plant into underground drinking water supplies, forcing the city to extend replacement water to rural residents. And at the Redstone Arsenal, an Army experimental weapons test and burn site in Huntsville, Alabama, perchlorate in the soil is 7,000 times safe limits, and local officials have had to begin monitoring drinking water for fear of contamination.

Federal environmental regulators have warned for decades that the burns pose a threat to soldiers, contractors and the public stationed at, or living near, American bases. Local communities — from Merrimac, Wisconsin, to Romulus, New York — have protested them. Researchers are studying possible cancer clusters on Cape Cod that could be linked to munitions testing and open burns there, and where the groundwater aquifer that serves as the only natural source of drinking water for the half-million people who summer there has been contaminated with the military’s bomb-making ingredients.

The Pentagon defends its use of open burns, saying they are legal, safe and conducted at far fewer sites than they used to be. The EPA, the Pentagon says, has drawn up acceptable emissions levels, and has issued permits accordingly.

“State and federal regulators and DoD scrutinize these operations to ensure the installation is operating in compliance with permits in a safe and environmentally responsible manner,” wrote J.C. King, director of munitions in the office of the assistant secretary of the army for installations, energy and the environment, in a statement sent to ProPublica.

But the EPA’s system for determining how much chemical burning is safe amounts to little more than educated guesses, ProPublica’s investigation shows. The limits are established using layers of modeling that can be highly speculative and that often bear little resemblance to the day-to-day reality of a place like Radford.

“They say look, these emissions factors show this stuff is pretty much harmless,” said Charles Hendrickson, a senior EPA remediation project manager who deals with burn sites. “But if you have a tiny percentage of something that is bad to breathe, or bad to get as fallout on your plants and soil and kids and house, even a tiny percentage of millions of pounds adds up.”

Such efforts, in any case, can be hopelessly compromised if the underlying data being fed into the models doesn’t match what’s actually being burned and how.

ProPublica reviewed records for the 51 active burn sites and more than 145 others the Pentagon, its contractors, and other private companies operated in the past, and found they had violated their hazardous waste handling permits thousands of times over the past 37 years, often for improperly storing and disposing of toxic material, and sometimes for exceeding pollution thresholds. At the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in Oklahoma, the Army has failed to establish groundwater monitoring wells required by the EPA in order to watch for contamination from its burn site. Operators at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama were cited in 2012 for burning despite cloudy weather conditions, conduct explicitly prohibited in their permit because it could make the pollution more dangerous.

Every Active Burn Site We Know AboutMost of the sites that are currently allowed to burn or detonate waste into open air are run by the military and its contractors. Explore all 197 sites, including those designated as Superfund sites, and how many violations each site has accumulated over the past 37 years.See the full graphic.

Source: Environmental Protection Agency; Department of Defense

Excerpt Read Full Article …

[Byline Abrahm Lustgarten]

Contributors: Nina Hedevang, Razi Syed and Alex Gonzalez, students in the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute graduate studies program, contributed reporting for this story. Other students in the program who also contributed were Lauren Gurley, Clare Victoria Church, Alessandra Freitas, Emma Cillekens and Eli Kurland.

20 July 2017
 ProPublica

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Related

Why Is Mainstream Investigative Journalism Outfit ProPublica Funded by Soros-Affiliated Donors?

For those unfamiliar, ProPublica is a somewhat recently-launched non-profit whose stated mission is to be the nation’s authority on professional, investigative reporting by “producing journalism that shines a light on exploitation of the weak by the strong and on the failures of those with power to vindicate the trust placed in them.” The catalyst behind ProPublica’s endeavor is what it sees as a void in investigative journalism across mainstream media outlets – a discipline engaged by a free press to ensure a just and transparent society.

Yet one of the organization’s key founders and major financial backers supports interests aligned with what would appear anathema to ProPublica’s stated principles – namely, George Soros’ Media Matters – an organization with a long and controversial past that has, even recently, come under fire for seeking to silence press with which it is ideologically opposed.

[…]

Launching a new endeavor, especially a non-profit, is a process often riddled with administrative challenges and financial hurdles. While in its nascent stage, it is thus not unreasonable to understand why a fledgling organization might be open to receiving funds from any number of seemingly-reputable sources. However, when journalistic integrity through investigative reporting is the cornerstone of an operation, there appears to be a certain level of hypocrisy in partnering with a duo who simultaneously endorse an organization that routinely seeks to silence media voices (operating within a free press) with which it disagrees. (Excerpt via TheBlaze)

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