Last week, Blacksburg Town Council unanimously passed a resolution calling on the Radford Army Ammunition Plant to address environmental hazards.
The non-binding resolution presented by councilwoman Cecile Newcomb in the summer states that, “The council recognizes the RAAP’s impact on community health, economic development, and the overall quality of life for Blacksburg residents and strongly urges the Department of Defense, EPA, Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, and other responsible agencies to immediately address impacts to air, water, soil, and human quality of life in the Town of Blacksburg and Montgomery County.”
The document also lists recommendations for “a one-year timeline in which they will terminate (at least 95 percent of) the open burning practices and the reduction of chemicals released into the groundwater and the New River and adequate testing of air, water, and soil in the surrounding area.”
Representatives from the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, a regional, community-based, non-profit environmental were present to thank the council.
“We are happy to see Blacksburg Town Council taking action in support of community health and well being,” said Michael James-Deramo, community organizer with BREDL.
Citizens for Arsenal Accountability also asked for monitoring and citizens’ health to be reviewed by third-party sources.
In reply to the resolution the following morning, RAAP Commanding Officer, LTC James H. Scott III wrote in an email he was “shocked and saddened” by the “misinformation” asserted in the resolution.
“The health and safety of our employees and the communities in which we live and work along with the stewardship of the environment is our everlasting focus,” he wrote.
That brief email reply was quickly followed by a line-by-line rebuttal addressing the concerns voiced in the resolution.
LTC Scott and Mayor-elect Leslie Hager-Smith met later in the week to discuss the council’s resolution.
“I was surprised that he was shocked,” Hager-Smith said. “This has been an ongoing problem for years and the arsenal has been assessed thousands of dollars in fees.”
Hager-Smith relayed that the council feels as if it is conveying the wishes of its residents.
“But the truth is the arsenal has been improving its record over the years. And here is the place that we’re left. The federal government and the RAAP need to understand that their neighbors feel imperiled, and we want to be in regular contact in the future,” she said.
Recommending that the channels of communication remain open, Hager-Smith will attend the quarterly RAAP public meetings at the Christiansburg Library.
“How can that be a bad idea?” she said.
The RAAP, built in Radford in the 1940s by the Hercules Powder Company to support WWII military ammunition production, is the only active military propellant manufacturer in the country.
The manufacturing of propellants produces toxic waste and the plant’s waste disposal method, though heavily monitored, by open burning and incineration has been a worry for residents and environmental activists for years.
The plant has been in the news lately. This summer, the Virginia Department of the Environment levied a fine and a notice of permitting violation for emission of, among others things, particulate matter, hydrochloric acid and carbon monoxide, and a first-ever EPA drone test, invited by the arsenal, in August sampled smoke plumes finding both lower-than-expected and higher-than-expected contaminant emissions.
As part of the Department of Defense’s effort to clean up contaminated land on active Army installations, the Radford plant has instigated its Installation Restoration Program. The Plant houses is Consumer Confidence Reports dating to 2012 and community meeting slide presentations to 2013 on the website: www.jmc.army.mil/Installations.aspx?id=RadfordCommandInformation
The next RAAP Informational meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14 at the Christiansburg Library (125 Sheltman St., Christiansburg).