Although Nevada can't stop the federal government from shipping highly toxic mercury to Hawthorne, state officials say they'll seek assurances it is transported properly and stored safely.
"We have a natural skepticism on what the federal government
tells us," Senate Minority Leader Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, said
Monday. "They have told us so many times things are really safe
and yet they don't have a record of being safe."
Titus chairs the Legislative Committee on Natural Treasures,
which met Friday in Hawthorne and got a report from the Department
of Defense on its plans to store 4,400 metric tons of liquid
mercury at the Hawthorne Army Ammunition Depot.
The mercury is now held in three locations around the Eastern
United States. More than half is stored near the town of
Hillsborough, N.J., where residents sought its removal because of
health and safety concerns.
Allen Biaggi, director of the state Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources, said Nevada has been unable to block the
shipments which are likely to begin early next year.
He expects that hundreds of trucks will bring the mercury to
Hawthorne, about 130 miles south of Reno. The mercury will be
contained in metal half-gallon flasks placed in 30-gallon steel
Once in Hawthorne, the drums will be placed on pallets in a
warehouse inside the depot. Eventually they will be placed in an
ammunition bunker, about four miles from Walker Lake.
Titus said the water table varies under the ammunition depot and
she is concerned about mercury leaks contaminating the lake.
But Lt. Col. John Summers, the depot commander, said multiple
barriers are being designed to prevent a leakage of mercury ever
escaping the bunker. The water table is 200 feet below the bunker
and monitoring wells are located throughout the depot.
"I understand their concern about Nevada becoming a dumping
ground for contaminants," he said. "If you go back to the '40s
and '50s there were some unwise actions. But the Department of
Defense has become a better steward of the land."