Executive Summary

Congress has assigned the U.S. Army the responsibility for destroying the stockpile of aging unitary chemical warfare agents. Of the eight sites in the contiguous United States where chemical weapons are stockpiled, two sites contain only one type of agent each, which is stored only in bulk containers called ton "containers." These two sites are Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and the Newport Chemical Activity, Indiana. These two sites contain about 9.5 percent of the total stockpile. The remainder of the stockpile contains a complex mix of agents and explosive-configured agent-containing weapons. To destroy all types of agent-containing munitions at all the stockpile sites, as well as the ton containers of agents, the Army has developed a complete processing system, called the baseline system, which uses incineration technology in four separate process streams to destroy chemical agents, energetics (explosives and propellants), and dunnage (e.g., packaging materials) and to decontaminate metal containers and parts.

In August 1995, the Army advertised for information on technologies not resembling incineration that were sufficiently developed to be considered as options for destruction of the stockpiles at Aberdeen and Newport. In November 1995, a contractor hired by the Army selected three technologies that best met the Army's advertised selection criteria. The Army asked the National Research Council to conduct a technical review of these three alternative technologies and two alternatives the Army had been pursuing on its own. The Army intends to use this technical review as one factor in deciding whether to proceed with pilot-testing of one or more alternative technologies at Aberdeen and Newport. The Army plans to present its recommendations to the Department of Defense in October 1996. The National Research Council was not asked to compare the alternative technologies with the baseline system. Nor was it asked to consider the application of the alternatives to other stockpile sites.

The three technologies selected from the submitted information were (1) a process that uses a high temperature, molten metal bath to break complex compounds (such as chemical warfare agents) into simple substances; (2) electrochemical oxidation mediated by ionic silver in aqueous solution; and (3) gas-phase chemical reduction with high temperature hydrogen and steam. The two technologies from the Army program were (1) stand-alone neutralization, which is a chemical hydrolysis that breaks agent molecules into two fragments that are far less toxic than the agent and (2) neutralization followed by biodegradation. (Biodegradation here refers to using microorganisms to break down the fragments from chemical hydrolysis into simpler compounds that are not hazardous to humans or the environment.)

The AltTech Panel

To conduct the review requested by the Army, the National Research Council formed the Panel on Review and Evaluation of Alternative Chemical Disposal Technologies (AltTech Panel). This report contains the panel's findings and recommendations. It also details the factual data, the information supplied by the proponent for each technology, and the analyses and arguments that support the findings and recommendations. Chapter I describes the context for the panel's work, including the history of the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program, the role of the National Research Council and its committees in reviewing and advising that program, the nature of the agent stockpiles at Aberdeen and Newport, and the Army Alternative Technology Program. Chapter 2 is a discussion of the broad set of evaluation factors that the panel assembled for organizing information about the five alternatives with respect to (1) the technical requirements of agent destruction processes; (2) safety, health, and environmental considerations; and (3) the implications of these requirements and considerations for the time required to implement each technology as a fully operational, yet fully tested and proven, facility to destroy chemical agents at Newport or Aberdeen.



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--> Executive Summary Congress has assigned the U.S. Army the responsibility for destroying the stockpile of aging unitary chemical warfare agents. Of the eight sites in the contiguous United States where chemical weapons are stockpiled, two sites contain only one type of agent each, which is stored only in bulk containers called ton "containers." These two sites are Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, and the Newport Chemical Activity, Indiana. These two sites contain about 9.5 percent of the total stockpile. The remainder of the stockpile contains a complex mix of agents and explosive-configured agent-containing weapons. To destroy all types of agent-containing munitions at all the stockpile sites, as well as the ton containers of agents, the Army has developed a complete processing system, called the baseline system, which uses incineration technology in four separate process streams to destroy chemical agents, energetics (explosives and propellants), and dunnage (e.g., packaging materials) and to decontaminate metal containers and parts. In August 1995, the Army advertised for information on technologies not resembling incineration that were sufficiently developed to be considered as options for destruction of the stockpiles at Aberdeen and Newport. In November 1995, a contractor hired by the Army selected three technologies that best met the Army's advertised selection criteria. The Army asked the National Research Council to conduct a technical review of these three alternative technologies and two alternatives the Army had been pursuing on its own. The Army intends to use this technical review as one factor in deciding whether to proceed with pilot-testing of one or more alternative technologies at Aberdeen and Newport. The Army plans to present its recommendations to the Department of Defense in October 1996. The National Research Council was not asked to compare the alternative technologies with the baseline system. Nor was it asked to consider the application of the alternatives to other stockpile sites. The three technologies selected from the submitted information were (1) a process that uses a high temperature, molten metal bath to break complex compounds (such as chemical warfare agents) into simple substances; (2) electrochemical oxidation mediated by ionic silver in aqueous solution; and (3) gas-phase chemical reduction with high temperature hydrogen and steam. The two technologies from the Army program were (1) stand-alone neutralization, which is a chemical hydrolysis that breaks agent molecules into two fragments that are far less toxic than the agent and (2) neutralization followed by biodegradation. (Biodegradation here refers to using microorganisms to break down the fragments from chemical hydrolysis into simpler compounds that are not hazardous to humans or the environment.) The AltTech Panel To conduct the review requested by the Army, the National Research Council formed the Panel on Review and Evaluation of Alternative Chemical Disposal Technologies (AltTech Panel). This report contains the panel's findings and recommendations. It also details the factual data, the information supplied by the proponent for each technology, and the analyses and arguments that support the findings and recommendations. Chapter I describes the context for the panel's work, including the history of the Chemical Stockpile Disposal Program, the role of the National Research Council and its committees in reviewing and advising that program, the nature of the agent stockpiles at Aberdeen and Newport, and the Army Alternative Technology Program. Chapter 2 is a discussion of the broad set of evaluation factors that the panel assembled for organizing information about the five alternatives with respect to (1) the technical requirements of agent destruction processes; (2) safety, health, and environmental considerations; and (3) the implications of these requirements and considerations for the time required to implement each technology as a fully operational, yet fully tested and proven, facility to destroy chemical agents at Newport or Aberdeen.

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--> Evaluating the Alternative Technologies The panel had to do much more than evaluate the conceptual design packages submitted by companies that advocated alternative technologies or by the Army (in the case of the two neutralization alternatives). To acquire as much information as possible that would be relevant to the evaluation, the panel sent a lengthy questionnaire to each technology proponent company (TPC) and to the Army, to which they responded in writing. Chapter 3 describes the development of the TPC questionnaire as a framework for gathering information. Teams of panel members followed up the questionnaire with visits to the facilities or demonstration sites of the TPCs. These teams conducted probing interactions with the TPCs, consisting of a series of written or verbal questions, requests for further information, and face-to-face inquiries during site visits. Chapters 4, 5, and 6 summarize what the panel learned about the three technologies selected for review. The panel decided that the alternatives proposed by the Army for neutralization and neutralization followed by biodegradation should be evaluated with respect to specific chemical agents. Therefore, Chapter 7 discusses neutralization and biodegradation options for the blister agent called mustard or HD, which is the only agent stockpiled at Aberdeen. Chapter 8 does the same for the nerve agent VX, which is the only agent stored at Newport. These five technical chapters are similar in format; after a short introduction to the technology, each chapter presents the scientific principles underlying the agent destruction process, the developmental status of the technology, operational requirements and other detailed process considerations, instrumentation and control, stability and reliability of the process, materials of construction, utility and scale-up requirements, safety issues, and an estimate of the time required to completely destroy the stockpiles at the two sites. Neighboring Communities and State Regulators The most significant impetus for seeking alternative technologies to destroy chemical agents has been opposition to incineration—and support for an alternative—by members of the communities around the stockpile sites. Fully aware of the importance placed on community involvement in previous stockpile- related reports by National Research Council committees and others, the AltTech Panel decided that the views and values of these communities were important to consider in the panel's criteria for comparing technologies. Chapter 9 describes the open forums conducted by the panel in the communities near the Aberdeen and Newport sites and the meetings with citizen commissions set up in each state as part of the Army's public participation efforts. The chapter explains how the panel interpreted the opinions it heard and how they relate to the evaluation criteria. Also summarized are meetings with Indiana and Maryland regulators who will be evaluating the permit applications required for any agent destruction facility to be pilot-tested or operated at full-scale in their states. Findings and Recommendations After six months of intensive information-gathering from the TPCs and the affected communities, the panel honed the broad set of evaluation factors to a tighter set of evaluation criteria. These criteria focus on characteristics that differentiate among the candidate technologies with respect to process performance and engineering; concerns about safety, health, and the environment; and the implications of the preceding factors for the time required to destroy the stockpiles. Chapter 10 explains the criteria and presents summary evaluations of each candidate technology. These cross-cutting evaluations are the basis for the panel's findings and recommendations, which are listed in abbreviated form below. Chapter 11 contains the full statement of the findings and recommendations, together with supporting narrative. General Findings General Finding 1. Since the 1993 National Research Council report, Alternative Technologies for the Destruction of Chemical Agents and Munitions, there has been sufficient development to warrant reevaluation of alternative technologies for chemical agent destruction. Because the developmental status of the technologies varies widely, the time required to complete pilot demonstrations will also vary. General Finding 2. All the technologies selected for the panel to review have successfully demonstrated the ability to destroy agent at laboratory-scale.

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--> General Finding 3. Members of the communities near the Aberdeen and Newport sites want an alternative to incineration that has the following characteristics: operation at low temperature and low pressure; simplicity; the capability of testing all process residuals prior to release; and minimal potential for detrimental effects, short term or long-term, on public health and the environment. Although the communities do not want treaty or legislative schedules to drive decisions on technology options, they want the stockpiles at the two sites to be destroyed as quickly as possible. General Finding 4. Based on the panel's discussions with state regulators, all the technologies appear to be permittable under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and associated state regulations within one to two years of submitting the applications. The actual time will depend on the complexity of the technology and the regulators' familiarity with it. General Finding 5. As complete processing systems for chemical agent, all the technologies reviewed are of moderate to high complexity. Although components of each process are standard and proven, no alternative is an off-the-shelf solution as an agent destruction process. Any one of them will require extensive design review, hazard and operability studies, materials selection, and related work as it moves through the piloting stage to full-scale demonstration and operation. During this necessary preparation for implementing an agent destruction system, everyone involved should bear in mind that most failures in complex, engineered systems occur not during steady-state, normal operations but during transient conditions such as startup, shutdown, or operator responses to deviations from design conditions. Specific Findings and Recommendations Specific Finding 1. The Army required each TPC to demonstrate the capacity of its processes to destroy agents in a government-approved laboratory. Each TPC supplied test results to the panel indicating it had successfully destroyed both blister (HD) and nerve (VX) agents. Due to time constraints, the panel was not able to review and analyze in-depth the data from these important tests. However, two key issues stand out. First, the tests were conducted under conditions of varying similarity to conditions in a pilot-scale or fully operational facility.1 It is therefore inappropriate to expect that the particular destruction removal efficiencies (DREs) attained in the tests would be the same as DREs attained in an operating facility.' It is also inappropriate to compare technologies only on the basis of DRE results. Given the lack of comparability between the test conditions and scaled-up facility for an individual technology and the differences in test conditions for different technologies, the panel has used the test results only to address, in yes-or-no fashion, whether a technology can destroy agent. Second, the by-products of any agent destruction process are of significant concern to the panel, the neighboring communities, and the regulators. A DRE value gives no information on the composition and concentration of by-products that may be hazardous to human health or the environment. An in-depth, independent analysis of these test data will be necessary to support future Department of Defense decisions about proceeding with pilot-testing. This analysis may show that further independent testing is needed. Recommendation 1. For any technology that is to be pilot-tested, the Army should support an in-depth analysis of the agent destruction test results by a competent, independent third party not associated with the Army or any of the TPCs. Specific Finding 2. Current Army prohibitions on the off-site treatment and disposal of process residuals unduly restrict the options for stockpile destruction. No toxicologic, or risk, basis for the proposed Army release standards has been developed. In addition, there appears to be an inconsistency among the limits for airborne exposure and residual concentrations in liquid and solid materials that are to be released from toxic handling facilities to off-site facilities for subsequent treatment and disposal. Recommendation 2a. Standards for releasing wastes should be evaluated on a clearly defined regulatory and risk basis that takes existing practices into account. Standards should be revised or established as necessary. 1   DRE is calculated as the percentage of agent destroyed or removed. A DRE of 99.99 percent is often referred to as "four 9's," a DRE of 99.9999 percent as "six 9's," and so on.

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--> Recommendation 2b. The Army should review and revise current restrictions on off-site treatment and disposal of process liquid and solid residual streams to allow treatment and disposal of the process effluents from agent destruction at permitted off-site treatment, storage, and disposal facilities and at permitted federally owned treatment works for wastewater. Specific Finding 3. The panel determined that the development status of the technologies assessed and the lack of long-term experience with their use for the destruction of chemical agent necessitate a comprehensive design review of any selected technology prior to the construction of a pilot plant. Reliability of the facility, as affected by system design, control, operation, maintenance, monitoring, and material selection, must be thoroughly evaluated. Recommendation 3. A detailed, comprehensive design review of any selected technology or technologies should be performed prior to starting pilot plant construction. This review should examine reliability as affected by system design, controls, operation, maintenance, monitoring, and materials selection. Specific Finding 4. The panel has found that, no matter which technology is selected for potential use at either site, the affected communities insist that they be included in a meaningful way in the process leading up to key decisions, including the decision to proceed to pilot demonstration. Recommendation 4. The Army should take immediate steps, if it has not already done so, to involve the communities around the Aberdeen and Newport sites in a meaningful way in the process leading up to the Army recommendation to the Defense Acquisition Board on whether to pilot-test one or more alternative technologies. Specific Finding 5. The results of independent risk assessments performed on the alternative technologies at the same time as this study were not available to the AltTech Panel until very late in the preparation of this report. The panel assumes that more-rigorous, site-specific assessments will be done at an appropriate time before a full-scale facility for agent destruction is built and operations on agent begin. The required assessments include a quantitative risk assessment and a health and environmental risk assessment. Recommendation 5. Before any technology is implemented at a stockpile site, an independent, site-specific quantitative risk assessment and a health and environmental risk assessment should be completed, evaluated, and used in the Army's risk management program. HD at Aberdeen Specific Finding 6. Aqueous neutralization of the chemical agent HD followed by biodegradation of the hydrolysate surpasses the other alternative technologies with respect to the panel's priority criteria (see Chapter 11). Recommendation 6. The Army should demonstrate the neutralization of HD at Aberdeen on a pilot-scale. The AltTech Panel recommends biodegradation of hydrolysate from HD at an off-site treatment, storage, and disposal facility as the most attractive neutralization configuration presented for review. The second best configuration is neutralization with biodegradation on-site, followed by disposal of the aqueous effluent through a federally owned treatment works. If this option is selected, the panel recommends separating the volatile organic compounds prior to biodegradation, followed by off-site treatment and disposal of these compounds. VX at Newport Specific Finding 7. Neutralization of chemical agent VX with sodium hydroxide solution destroys agent effectively and substantially lowers the toxicity of the process stream. With respect to the panel's priority criteria (Chapter 11), this technology followed by offsite treatment and disposal of the hydrolysate has the same relative advantages as neutralization of HD. One difference, however, is the uncertainty about the appropriate disposal method for VX hydrolysate. It is possible, although not yet established by adequate testing, that the hydrolysate has sufficiently low toxicity associated with its organic products that complete biodegradation prior to discharge may not be necessary. Furthermore, treatment of VX hydrolysate by existing

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--> processes other than biodegradation is likely to be possible. The residual concentrations of agent or agent precursors allowable under the Chemical Weapons Convention are likely to be less stringent than the concentrations required by the environmental permits for the destruction and downstream disposal facilities. Recommendation 7a. The Army should pilot-test VX neutralization followed by off-site treatment of the hydrolysate at a permitted treatment, storage, and disposal facility, for potential use at the Newport site, but only if the effluent discharged from the off-site facility has been shown to have acceptably low toxicity and to result in minimal environmental burden. Recommendation 7b. If on-site disposal of VX hydrolysate is preferred to shipping it off-site for treatment, existing commercial processes other than biodegradation should be considered. The panel does not recommend on-site biodegradation because of the need for cofeeding a substantial amount of carbon substrate and because of limited success to date in testing on-site biodegradation. Specific Finding 8. Electrochemical oxidation is the next best alternative for destroying VX at the Newport site. Although the developmental status of this technology is not as advanced as the status of other technologies considered, the panel is confident that the remaining development can lead to a successful pilot demonstration. Recommendation 8. If successful off-site treatment of VX hydrolysate at an existing treatment, storage, and disposal facility is not confirmed by appropriate treatability studies, and successful on-site treatment of VX hydrolysate with existing commercial processes cannot be demonstrated, then the Army should pilot-test the electrochemical oxidation of VX for potential use at the Newport site.