Radford Arsenal discusses drone air pollutant testing results with public

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CHRISTIANSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) The Radford Army Ammunition Plant spoke Wednesday to the public for the first time since higher levels of hazardous materials were reported to be in the smoke they produce.

It was to a full house at the Christiansburg Library in the quarterly community meeting.

The new Commander at the Plant said he's excited by the numbers that came out from recent testing of the smoke plumes at the facility, as they showed more than 90 percent of pollutant emission factors were down.

But the same couldn't be said about the crowd.

Some of the people in Wednesday's meeting had specific questions about pollutants the Army Ammunition Plant could be responsible for.

Christy Mackie lives in McCoy, just a mile or so from the plant.

She said, "I have found out in the last two years that I have arsenic in my well and the level has gone up from 0.01 to 0.12 in just one year. Also, my doctor diagnosed a benign cyst on my thyroid, so that's another reason for coming."

Recent testing done at the plant was different than past analyses, as cutting edge direct measurement was used with a drone that created FRAAP Specific Emission Factors, instead of trusting the Standard Table Method and Calculating the Emission Factors.

This recent drone testing found 68 emission factors, including 17 of 21 Elements/Metals, Chromium VI, Dioxin/furan, Perchlorate, all but one Organic, and all energetics, were lower than previous analysis, thanks in large part to closing the coal fire plant and opening a natural gas one.

However, five levels were higher

Arsenic levels are 37 times higher than the previous analysis, along with silver being six times higher, lead five times as much, Chloromethane saw a rise of 2.3 times, and Cadmium went up 1.51 times previous levels.

Those all sound high, but the differences are, in fact, very small, with the arsenic difference being 0.000020 Emission Factors.

The new Commander at the Arsenal said there may not be much to do to bring the levels down, though.

Lieutenant Colonel James Scott explained, "We did discuss the research and development initiative going on to try to determine if there's a way to make the propellant that we currently make without lead, and the research and development teams are working that to see if it will give the same performance and DOD standards that we're held to."

The biggest issue Wednesday, as with any talks of the Arsenal, was the open burn facility, used to destroy materials that the Arsenal says could blow up and injure employees if put into current incinerators.

While the plant said designs will be 90% done by December 2017 for a new closed incinerator that can handle the materials, many at the meeting weren't happy there isn't a set timeline for when it will be built.

Lt. Col. Scott said, "We currently do not have the funding to move it forward once we get the bids in from the contractors or whatever type of company has the technology to build it."

An Army representative said the Arsenal is high on the priority list, but there's no way to know when approvals and funding could come in once designs are done.

One Blacksburg man, Rex Card, a father of three, said on Wednesday he was concerned about his kids' safety with the pollutants, especially lead, in the air, but said his questions weren't definitively answered.

"I don't leave here felling better, I don't leave here feeling worse, I leave here feeling like I need additional information," he said after the meeting.

Another big talking point Wednesday night was whether the Arsenal tests surrounding airspace, like at the nearby Belview Elementary School.

Lt. Col. Scott said that's, in fact, up to the EPA or DEQ.

He also said Wednesday there will be more talks on this subject at the next quarterly meeting, sometime in December.

If you would like to take a look at the reports on the Radford Arsenal, you can find them in full under the "Documents" section in the top right hand corner of this article.