Holston Ammunition Plant’s Open Burning Raises Citizen Concern

By Kevin Ridder

The Holston Army and Ammunition Plant in Kingsport, Tenn., is under scrutiny for disposing explosives and contaminated materials by burning them out in the open. The plant’s Title V air pollution permits, which grant them exemption from state open burn laws, are up for renewal this year through the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. A public comment period ended in September.

Kingsport residents Mark and Connie Toohey, members of environmental activist group Moms Clean Air Force, have been fighting to limit the plant’s air pollution since 2011.

“During open burns, [the explosives] produce a lot of cyanide as well as [nitrogen oxide],” wrote Mark Toohey during the public comment period.

“We’re up high enough that we can see pretty much whenever they’re burning,” says Connie Toohey. “The smoke has even blown up into our house. When you’re in town, where little kids are playing and swimming, you might be able to smell it but you can’t really see it. It isn’t right.”

Under Tennessee law, Holston’s Title V permits are granted if “there is no other practical, safe, and/or lawful method of disposal.” Mark Toohey cites the Louisiana Camp Minden military facility as an example of alternative disposal. A contained burn unit was established there last year after public outcry against open burning of propellants.

Justine Barati, Director of Public and Congressional Affairs for Joint Munitions Command, stated through email that once the possibility of sending waste to an on-site landfill at the Holston facility has been explored, different technologies will be reviewed to reduce open burning. The plant expects to decide on a course of action by September 2017.

Tennessee environmental regulators do not have a timeline for making a decision on the air pollution permit renewal, according to an agency spokesperson.

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