Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

VA's Largest Polluter Scales Back Outdoor Burning


The Radford Army Ammunitions Plant is one of the few places that still burns waste from the making of explosives, outdoors, in the open air.

For years, activists have been urging the practice be stopped because of threats to human health and the environment.  Now plans are in the works to do that and more.

Lt. Col Alicia Masson started her new job as Commander of the Radford Arsenal just six weeks ago. But she says plans to replace open air burning of munitions waste with a new, cleaner type of incinerator, have been in the works for much longer than that. And she says, there’s a number of an environmental improvements, already in the planning and building phases.

“With government contracts, those take months, in some cases, years to come to fruition so I was surprised when I got and started reading the press, that the public did not know that we’re undergoing hundreds of millions of dollars in modernization right now. And I just wanted to take the opportunity to get that word out."

Masson lives in the housing area of the arsenal. She’s confident she and her family, and their neighbors are under no current threat from the airborne emissions from the current practice of open ground burning.

“It is safe. And I have to point out that the new technology that is coming as a result of modernization, we will reduce potentially significant amounts of those extra bits that have to be disposed using the open burning."

Devawn Palmer Oberlender leads an advocacy group called environmental Patriots of the New River Valley.

“I’m encouraged that they seem to recognize the need to stop open burning but I’m suspect only because they’ve given us so much reason to be suspect over time.The fact that the community hasn’t been involved or consulted or informed in any way, makes me wonder what s going on.”

Oberlender says the news of coming changes at the arsenal came as a welcome surprise.  She hopes that when the new, cleaner, contained incinerator is chosen, it will have a built in air monitor to check the emissions before they escape into the air.  High tech contained incinerators are known to reduce emissions.  But the bottom line, she says, is confirming that with real time, consistent, ambient air testing around the burning sites in order to protect school children and residents upwind.

“It’s our right and they have an obligation. The state of Virginia has an obligation to the people living in these mountains, on this side of the piedmont, to bring some money here to to test our air quality. And the Toxic Release Inventory Data is supposed to direct the state to bring that air quality monitoring here so that’s what I’m talking about: Check the air that the kids are breathing.

Lt. Col Masson says the Department of Environmental Quality will require air testing. She could not go into details, but confirmed the Arsenal is considering using drones to get those air samples.  She pointed out, that among other updates aimed shrinking the arsenal’s environmental footprint, it’s exploring using renewable energy in some part of the process.

“Not just because of army policy telling me to do it but, I love the environment too. So does the staff here. And as a responsible adult there’s no way in 2015 if we’re pursuing technology that we shouldn’t be looking at green energy; So a part of the design bid, a part of our requirement is for them to show us how they could co-generate, how they could go green."

Masson says, she’s committed to giving the community a voice in the process.  She disagrees with the contention that, that hasn’t been the case in the past.  She wants double the number of public meetings from 2 to 4. The next one is set for September. The Environmental Patriots of the New River Valley will be meeting on August 6th.


Related Content