A toxics chemical expert has raised concerns on the technology that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will use in conducting a cleanup of polychlorinated biphenyl contamination in Tanapag, a northern coastal village in Saipan.
Greenpeace’s Dr. Darryl Luscombe said the indirect thermal desorption process will only separate PCB from the soil but does not destroy the highly toxic chemical.
“So you end up with something that is more hazardous, more toxic and more dangerous. The U.S. Army Corps has not said anything about what they will do with concentrated PCBs. So it is not a complete process,” he said. Dr. Luscombe has worked with different federal agencies that specifically deal with the destruction of Persistent Organic Pollutants, including PCBs.
The Army Corps has maintained that indirect low thermal desorption is the most effective way to deal with PCB contamination as it has been used recently in the cleanup of a factory site in New Jersey.
Incineration as an option to destroy PCB has been ruled out since burning the toxic chemical will only produce dioxin into the atmosphere. Greenpeace maintains that burying PCBs and other Persistent Organic Pollutants in landfills is no solution since it will only contain these chemicals but does not destroy them.
The buried PCBs can and do escape into the surrounding environment, through leaching into the groundwater and escaping into the atmosphere as vapors (gases).
“After decades of research, engineering innovations and great expense, the most modern, state-of-the-art landfills are still potential time bombs and permanent threats,” Greenpeace said.
In Guam, the U.S. Department of Defense has used a process called base catalyzed dechlorination in cleaning up the PCB contamination problem in the neighboring island.
“If they (Army Corps) are talking about landfill, is it going to be in Tanapag, Saipan or is it going to be in the U.S.?” asked Dr. Luscombe.
U.S. EPA and the Army Corps have maintained that the PCB-contaminated soil could not be sent back to the U.S. mainland because of the ban on the importation of PCB.
During the first remediation conducted in Tanapag village, the U.S. Army Corps shipped to the U.S. mainland in September 1999 some 1,094,000 pounds of PCB- and dioxin-contaminated soil for disposal at a hazardous waste facility.
Assuming that the Army Corps will be allowed to send the concentrated PCB chemical from the thermal desorption process back to the U.S. mainland, why could they have not sent the PCB contaminated soil back? The answer is simple: it is cheaper to ship back one ton of PCB than say, 5,000 tons of PCB-contaminated soil to the U.S.
Dr. Luscombe said there should be a thorough testing conducted in the village since the groundwater contaminated with PCB may have not come from the cemetery but from another area which has high concentration of the toxic chemical.
“It could be another dump that has not been identified. The sampling has not been good enough to identify it removed PCBs present in other areas,” he added.
Never mind if it will take the Army Corps a long time to test the whole village just to ensure that there are no other PCB contaminated sites in the area. After all, as one community leader has said, no one can put a value on the people’s lives.