- Associated Press - Friday, October 2, 2015

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The U.S. Army has agreed to a July 2020 deadline for reducing pollution from a Kingsport ammunition plant to safe levels.

The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by the Tennessee Clean Water Network last November.

According to that lawsuit, the Army and its contractor have been violating the federal Clean Water Act by illegally dumping the explosive compound RDX into the Holston River, a source of drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers RDX a possible human carcinogen.

State regulators in 2007 gave contractor BAE Systems Ordnance Systems Inc. five years to reduce RDX dumping to permitted levels. But at the end of those five years, the Holston Army Ammunition Plant was releasing more RDX into the river, rather than less, according to the lawsuit. That was despite the construction of a new wastewater treatment plant.

“Part of the problem here is this is a unique situation,” Tennessee Clean Water Network attorney Stephanie Durman said in a phone interview. “Wastewater treatment experts don’t know how to treat to reduce RDX.”

That’s because the Holston plant is the only place in the country where RDX is produced.

But Durman said progress has already been made, and the Army and BAE are actively working to find solutions.

“Our hope is that they will be able to get well below the limit well below the deadline,” Durman said.

U.S. District Judge Leon Jordan on Thursday approved the consent decree between the Army, BAE and the Knoxville nonprofit.

Durman said the consent decree complements a voluntary agreement the Army and BAE made with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation last year. That agreement spells out what upgrades will be made to the ammunition plant over a specific timeframe to curb the pollution. The Army says it expects to spend more than $80 million on those improvements.

The consent decree does not specify what pollution controls need to be installed, only that the plant must be in compliance with its pollution permits by July 2020. It is enforceable in the federal courts.

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