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Explosive waste incinerator at Picatinny reduces need for open burning

Wed, 09/12/2012 - 12:00am
U.S. Army

PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. (Sept. 12, 2012) -- By virtue of its mission, Picatinny Arsenal generates energetic waste during the course of the research and development of military munitions.

Over the decades, arsenal employees have adapted to evolving technologies and environmental regulations to provide the most efficient and safest methods for demilitarizing energetic material.

Since the 1940s, the area previously used for open burning operations was intended for the demilitarization of various explosive materials.

A new burning ground, located deeper within Picatinny Arsenal, became operational on June 1, 2011, a date that also coincides with the start of operations of an explosive waste incinerator that has reduced the need for open burning.

"Incineration is a much cleaner process than open burning to dispose of energetic waste materials," said Joe Caltagirone, project manager for the explosive waste incinerator. "It has a destruction removal efficiency of 99.99 percent of the hazardous organic constituents."

While the incinerator can process much of the energetic waste that would have previously been subjected to open burning, some energetic waste material cannot be disposed of through incineration because it is incompatible with the grinding or incineration process used at the explosive waste incinerator.

The incinerator uses a grinder to reduce the waste to an appropriate size and a slurry-based process to feed energetic waste into the incinerator.

Examples of energetic material incompatible with the incineration process are water reactives, rubbery material that is not grindable, and overly sensitive or unstable energetic material.

The incinerator's inability to handle all waste materials meant that the Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, known as ARDEC, had to retain its open burning capability.

In August 2009, Picatinny held a public meeting informing the community of its need to continue the practice of open burning at diminished levels.

In February 2010, the installation received a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, or NJDEP, to operate at the new burning ground with a revised permit limit of 5,000 pounds a year.

"The new burning grounds are more environmentally friendly because of the concrete pads, on which metal pans that contain the waste are placed," said Rodney Morgan, the team leader for open burning and opening detonation at the Enterprise and Systems Integration Center.

"Regarding worker safety, we have a bunker now with a camera on the burn pans so we are able to watch the burn on the television so that we don't have to use binoculars," he added. "We are protected from the weather in the bunker compared to the older building that dated back to the 1940s and had no electricity."

Morgan said the new burning ground is also safer to operate because of its proximity to the material that needs to be disposed.

"The material we have to burn is actually housed at a bunker that is right down the road from our burn site," he said. "Before, we had to take the material and transport it all the way through Picatinny and downtown Picatinny to take it down to the burning grounds."

ADVANCE NOTICE OF BURNING REQUIRED

In accordance with permit requirements, opening burning occurs only during certain weather conditions.

Also, the NJDEP, which issued the permits required for open burning, is notified 24 hours in advance of every burn event.

"The Picatinny Fire Department is always on standby on location in case their services are required during operations," said Sybil Lusardi, ARDEC environmental officer.

Although the current permit for open burning is limited to 5,000 pounds a year, Picatinny officials have identified a need to increase the open burning limit at the new burning ground to 20,000 pounds a year because Picatinny is approaching its annual limit.

The permit limit increase is also required as a contingency to the incinerator shutting down for an extended period of time.

Picatinny leaders are concerned that the incinerator represents a "single point of failure," meaning that if for some reason it could not operate, Picatinny would not have the permits with the increased limits required to dispose of its energetic waste.

RISK ASSESSMENT PERFORMED

In addition, the increase is required to support ARDEC's continually evolving research, development and engineering mission.

An outside contractor, Shaw Environmental, Inc., was asked by the Environmental Affairs Division and ARDEC to perform two risk assessments to determine if a new limit of 20,000 pounds a year would represent a risk to human health or the environment.

The risk assessments found that open burning at this level would not create an unacceptable risk to human health or unacceptable ecological risk, nor would it produce air concentrations above those published in the National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Although Picatinny has requested a permit to increase its current open burn limit, the preferred method for disposal is the incineration of all explosives and propellants unless they are on the incinerator exclusion list.

In addition, Picatinny officials say engineers will continue to improve the processes for acquiring and storing explosives and propellants to minimize waste.

Moreover, recognizing that science will continue to evolve, the installation continues to explore plans to modify and improve the incineration process to enable Picatinny to treat more energetic materials at the incinerator.

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