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Letters

May 5, 2008
Volume 86, Number 18
pp. 4-7

Incineration of VX hydrolysate

The article regarding the incineration of VX hydrolysate (VXH) at the Veolia Environmental Services incinerator several miles outside the city of Port Arthur, Texas, suggests that the operation could be harmful to public health and the environment (C&EN, March 24, page 29). As an expert witness during the hearing before Judge Larry J. McKinney last summer, I satisfactorily addressed all the incineration issues raised in the article. C&EN could have contacted me regarding these issues to determine the merits of its concerns, rather than raising scientifically indefensible fears in the article.

VX readily decomposes at high temperatures. The Veolia incinerator has demonstrated the ability to incinerate 1,2-dichlorobenzene (a difficult-to-incinerate compound) with a destruction and removal efficiency (DRE) of greater than 99.99999%. VX (a more easily incinerated compound) would have a much higher DRE in the Veolia incinerator.

To date, the Army has destroyed more than 2,000 tons of VX via incineration. VX has never been detected in the incinerator stack gas effluent. VX in VXH exists at zero or near-zero levels. Even if present, VX in Veolia incineration emissions would be too low to measure by current monitoring technology. There is no scientific basis to justify continuous monitoring of VX in stack emissions as suggested in the article.

Concerns expressed at the end of the article about dioxin emissions also lack foundation. Dioxins are created in the natural environment from many combustion sources, including forest fires. The optimal temperature for dioxin formation is approximately 450 °F. At the Veolia facility, incineration gases leave the secondary combustion chamber at around 2,100 °F and are rapidly cooled to approximately 185 °F in the quench tower. There is minimal opportunity for dioxins to form. The most recent trial burn for the Veolia facility demonstrated that emission of dioxins is extremely low; approximately one-sixteenth the facility’s regulatory limit, as expected.

Worldwide, the majority of chemical warfare agents have been safely destroyed by incineration. The Veolia facility is a modern hazardous waste incinerator that is compliant with both the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act and Maximum Achievable Control Technology. The facility is stringently regulated by the state and federal governments and is highly effective in destroying aqueous feeds, including caustic VXH that may contain trace concentrations of VX. Contrary to C&EN’s speculations, the public and the environment have not unwittingly “been put at risk of exposure to some of the most toxic and lethal chemical substances ever devised.”

Richard S. Magee
Hoboken, N.J.


The article concerning destruction of VX hydrolysate at the Veolia Port Arthur, Texas, incinerator contains several misstatements and fails to include critical information:

1. The article claims that the Army signed the waste disposal contract “with no public notification.” Though not required by our operating permits, Veolia briefed numerous community leaders and elected officials about the project well before signing this contract.

2. The article states that “the Veolia facility is located in a low-income minority community ???” Our incinerator is actually located in the countryside; the nearest resident is approximately 3 miles away; the nearest point in Port Arthur is 3.5 miles away, while central Port Arthur is about 10 to 12 miles away.

3. Opponents asserted this project threatens human health and the environment. After two-and-a-half days of hearings, a federal judge rejected these claims.

4. After hydrolysate shipments began, no one, including the plaintiffs, opposed the issuance of the incinerator’s Title V air permit.

5. The discussion about using an on-site supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) unit to destroy hydrolysate overlooks several problems:

a. SCWO technology has never been a commercially viable technology.

b. Constructing SCWO would cost $300 million to $500 million, not including operational costs, with no guarantee that it would work. Incineration is a proven technology and costs are much lower.

c. SCWO would generate large amounts of process effluent that would require disposal. Public and regulatory acceptance of disposal of this process waste stream would be required.

6. Before shipments began, the Army briefed emergency response and safety officials of every state through which shipments would travel. None has opposed the shipments, then or now.

7. The Army’s work at the Newport site is overseen or has been reviewed by several state, federal, and international agencies; many reviewed the analytical procedures used by the Newport facility carefully and found them acceptable.

8. The speculations about harmful emissions of dioxins and VX are especially baseless and constitute scare tactics of the worst sort. There is not a single shred of scientific evidence to support the reporter’s speculations. Veolia has more than 10 years of test data showing the incinerator’s effectiveness in destroying hazardous materials.

We are proud to have helped the U.S. Army in its efforts to destroy these chemical weapons. Regrettably, the C&EN article fails to give an objective and unbiased account of this important topic.

Mitch Osborne, General Manager
Veolia ES Technical Solutions LLC
Port Arthur, Texas

C&EN’s Oversight And Our Apology

I just wanted to mention that in the magazine???s April 21 editorial (page 3) both Democratic candidates wound up with their first names misspelled. I send this in a friendly, low-key spirit, since I???m a fan of Rudy Baum???s writing. This seemed too minor to write any kind of formal letter about, yet even politicians too witless to participate in a science debate deserve to be correctly identified.

Jake Yeston
Rockville, Md.


Ten Percent Is Positive Progress

Gerald Roye dismisses the role ethanol can play in reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil and production of carbon dioxide (C&EN, March 17, page 6). He argues that ethanol can displace only 10% of the country???s need for gasoline. This is a frequently cited criticism; unfortunately, it is misplaced.

Any progress we make toward the goal of reducing gasoline consumption is positive progress. No one would denigrate achieving the same 10% reduction through conservation or improved fuel economy. Perhaps ethanol will not be the panacea we had all hoped it would be, but it is the most feasible of the short-term steps we can take.

Robert G. Butler
Passaic, N.J.


Germany’s Ph.d. Bureaucracy

The News of the Week article "Mistaken Masquerade" struck a chord (C&EN, March 10, page 11). The situation that Sarah Everts describes has existed for close to seven decades, and the cited law is in large part the reason my family is successfully established in the U.S.

In 1953, while a student at the Technical University, Braunschweig, I was awarded a German Foreign Office fellowship for study abroad. I spent that year in England at the University of Leeds department of organic chemistry. After I returned to Germany and completed my degree, Leeds offered me a job as a teaching assistant (“Demonstrator”) at £450 a year (approximately $1,500 then) while I pursued a Ph.D. No comparable offers were forthcoming back home.

When I inquired about applicable German regulations, the provisions of the 1939 law that you discussed were laid out for me in a 1955 letter from the Lower Saxony Ministry of Culture. Basically, the requirements were to obtain permission from one of the German states by way of submitting documentary evidence, a copy of the dissertation and, if possible, a German translation thereof. The grapevine had it that this represented a significant hurdle in a country with cutthroat competition for scarce academic positions.

Three years later, things got more complex when we considered how to integrate into this process my new bride, herself a German citizen, with B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. degrees from two U.K. universities. So we both accepted postdoctoral positions at Yale University and tested the waters of returning to Germany once more in 1961. We decided to remain in the U.S. and have never regretted our choice.

Wolfgang H. H. Gunther
West Chester, Pa.


Disapproval Of ‘Breaking Bad’

In the five decades that I have been a member of ACS, I have never felt the need to write a letter to the editor of C&EN. However, the article "Breaking Bad" prompts me to do so at this time (C&EN, March 3, page 32). Devoting two pages in the Science & Technology section to a TV show featuring a chemist who makes his living preparing crystal meth was disgusting, to say the least. Considering the problems of illicit drug use in this country, articles of this type, even though they describe fictional characters, are a disservice to our honorable profession. Those responsible for this article should be taken to task.

George F. Fanta
Morton, Ill.


The ACS President should retract and apologize for the article "Breaking Bad." Is this how you try to make chemistry look good: By writing about a TV show about a chemistry Ph.D. and high school teacher turned methamphetamine manufacturer and distributor? It seems your writer finds it more regrettable for one to perform below his Ph.D. status as a high school teacher than it is to turn into a justifiable criminal. Doesn???t that moral view just fit beautifully with the rotten decay of our times?

Burke Ritchie
Livermore, Calif.


CAS Registry Numbers

While it is good to know that Wikipedia has approached Chemical Abstracts Service to address the issue of incomplete or incorrect CAS Registry Numbers, it should be recognized that this is only the tip of the iceberg relative to incomplete or incorrect registry numbers on the Web (C&EN, March 17, page 43). The most common problem is the confusion between the number for the generic formula of a compound (intended to be used for a chemical entity when its exact composition is unknown or variable) versus the number for a compound of specific known formula. A good example is the three configurations of propanol:

Typical misuses occur in the following ways. First, a vendor (either in a product specification or in a material safety data sheet) uses 62309–51–7 as the registry number for one of the specific configurations. If a buyer uses the correct specific registry number to search for suppliers of one of the specific configurations, then he will not find that vendor.

Second, a vendor uses the correct specific registry number for one of the specific configurations. If a buyer uses 62309–51–7 to search for suppliers of one of the specific configurations, then he will not find that vendor.

Third, a vendor correctly uses 62309–51–7 to describe a mixture of the two specific configurations, but the buyer thinks he’s ordering one of the pure compositions.

These errors become self-perpetuating in commerce and can lead to significant operational problems if not recognized. Even when the parties recognize that there is confusion in their communication, I have observed that it cannot be resolved in the absence of someone who understands the record structure of the registry file. Another common problem is the confusion between the registry numbers for the anhydrous form of a salt versus the registry number(s) for the hydrated form(s).

Given that these errors occur with greater frequency than one might anticipate and are not trivial in their consequences, it seems appropriate that ACS should initiate a study to quantify the extent of the problem and to identify solutions to it.

Deanna Morrow Hall
Stone Mountain, Ga.

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