TCWN files lawsuit against U.S. Army, BAE to clean up Holston River

The Tennessee Clean Water Network filed a lawsuit Tuesday to force the U.S. Army and BAE to stop the pollution of the Holston River.

Back in September, News Channel 11’s Nate Morabito reported on the explosive material, known as RDX – a white powder commonly used by the military to make ammunition – found in the water of the South Fork Holston River.

RDX is considered a possible carcinogen by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Earlier this year, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation saw higher than normal levels of RDX while testing the water downstream, which “exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s non-enforceable health advisory limit of 2 parts per billion (ug/L).”

The U.S. Army, BAE Systems and TDEC signed a compliance agreement that gives the plan a set amount of time to correct the problem or face up to almost $100,000 in fines.

The following is a release issued Tuesday from the Tennessee Clean Water Network about the lawsuit:

The Tennessee Clean Water Network has filed a lawsuit to force the U.S. Army and BAE to stop the pollution of the Holston River with a highly explosive chemical, RDX, used in military ammunitions and bombs and to comply with other provisions of the facility’s Clean Water Act permits.

The toxic RDX is coming from the Holston Army Ammunitions Plant (HSAAP) in Kingsport, Tennessee. The HSAAP is owned by the U.S. Department of the Army and operated by BAE Systems Ordnance Systems, Inc.

On September 17, 2014, TCWN sent a 60-day notice of intent to sue to the Army and BAE. “It is clear that TCWN must take this legal action to protect water quality in the Holston River, which serves as the source of drinking water for thousands of people in East Tennessee and is used by fisherman, boaters, and swimmers,” said Stephanie Durman Matheny, TCWN’s attorney. “All Tennesseans have a right to unpolluted waters, and that means we should not have explosives in our rivers.”

“Our research shows a long history by HSAAP of polluting the Holston River with RDX, a highly explosive synthetic pollutant that does not occur naturally in the environment and is a possible human carcinogen. There are documented violations by the Army and BAE of its state permits in regards to RDX limits, spills and overflows at the HSAAP facility and we are taking this legal action to compel compliance with our water quality laws,” Matheny added.

Matheny said that the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation and BAE have entered into a compliance agreement to address the problem. “A compliance agreement is not strong enough to address these serious pollution problems in the Holston caused by the HSAAP. The Army and BAE first found out about the RDX pollution in 2004 and a decade later the problem is only getting worse.”

“In this lawsuit against the Army and BAE, TCWN is seeking a federal court order requiring BAE and the Army to comply with their permits in an expedited manner. Without this court order, I am afraid another decade will pass with continued pollution by this dangerous chemical, RDX, which has a lifetime health advisory guidance from the EPA.”

The RDX pollution is not just confined to the Kingsport area. It is a problem from Kingsport to Morristown to Knoxville as RDX has been found in samples from the Holston River just above the confluence with the French Broad River in Knox County, which is more than 100 miles from the HSAAP. The impacted area includes Cherokee Lake, which is a popular recreational destination.

Continued pollution of the Holston by the Army and BAE has caused one TDEC staff member to remove herself from the position of permit writer for the HSAAP. TDEC’s Julie A. Harse, P.E., has expressed concern in the past for the lack of progress towards meeting the HSAAP’s RDX limits.

In a July 9, 2014, letter to TDEC’s Director of the Division of Water Resources, Ms. Harse formally removed herself as the permit writer citing her ethical obligations as a licensed professional engineer to “protect the safety, health and welfare of the public” in the performance of her duties.

“Clearly, this is an ongoing problem that needs to be a top priority for Tennessee’s environmental regulators. Stringent enforcement procedures must be mandated to address the pollution. I applaud Ms. Harse for her dedication towards protecting the health and safety of the citizens of our state,” Matheny said.

To read the entire lawsuit and for an EPA factsheet on RDX, please visit TCWN’s website at

BAE Systems also issued a statement Tuesday in response to the TWCN lawsuit, which said “…BAE Systems continues to work closely with the Army and regulatory agencies to comply with all environmental permits and regulations. The health and safety of our workforce and community is our top priority. Please contact the U.S. Army public affairs representative for questions pertaining to the operations of the [Holston Army Ammunition Plant].”

Copyright 2014 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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