For the first time, the United States Army told a crowd in Kingsport it’s dedicated to finding a safe alternative to open burning of explosive waste.
For more than 70 years, workers at Holston Army Ammunition have disposed of waste contaminated with explosives and other chemicals by setting it on first at the site.
For the general public, open burning is illegal in the United States, but the military is allowed to practice the use of open burning because they say there is no safe alternative to dispose of waste contaminated with explosive material.
It’s been legal for the military and a common practice for years.
At Wednesday’s public meeting, a panel of representatives of BAE Systems and Holston Army Ammunition answered questions from citizens.
For some like Connie Toohey, who said she is worried about the impact of open burning and the plumes of black smoke visible from outside the plant.
“I’m watching neighbors coming out of their houses on a gurney, with sheets over their heads. I’ve seen three – cancer,” Toohey said. “No, this is not safe.”
However, Col. Luis Ortiz with the United States Army said a recent memo encourages the military to make an effort to reduce reliance on open burning by 2024.
“The issue with open burning is it’s a concern, there are health concerns, there are other concerns,” Ortiz said.
Joe Kennedy, commander’s representative of Holston Army Ammunition Plant, said they are currently conducting a study to figure out a safe alternative to dispose of explosive material.
“We understand open burning is an issue,” Kennedy said. “We are doing everything we can to minimize what we burn and we are working as fast as we know how to try to put a plan in place and implement that plan to reduce our overall open burning.”
He said the study will be completed in March.
The Army has plans to expand Holston Army Ammunition Plant in Kingsport.
The $450 million expansion would modernize some of the plant but a spokesperson for BAE Systems said it could lead to an increase in open burning.