Archive for Thursday, January 18, 2001

Chamber members learn details of Sunflower burns

January 18, 2001

A lot of thought and preparation goes into those columns of smoke that routinely rise from the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, Gayla Frazier told members of the DeSoto Chamber of Commerce last week.

As part of its contract with the Army to manage the plant, Alliant Techsystems is charged with burning down buildings potentially contaminated with explosives from the manufacture of rocket propellant at Sunflower, Frazier said.

Frazier, who serves as Alliant's Sunflower plant manager, addressed members at the January Chamber meeting, which was held at Sunflower last week.

Since January 1997, Alliant has burned 1,290 large and small structures at Sunflower and has a contract to burn 112 more before September 2001, Frazier said.

The Army is allowed to burn buildings because that is the only safe way to remove them, Frazier said. It was suspected from the start that the buildings were potentially contaminated with nitrocellulose that leeched into wood surfaces during the production of rocket propellant, she said.

The suspicion was confirmed during the first pilot burn in July 1996.

"The first one exploded, and everyone went, 'Oh my God, they will explode,'" she said. "We went back to the drawing board after that, and we had already done a lot of preparation."

The Army and Alliant have found the Sunflower burns are different from agricultural burns, Frazier said. Farmers want the smoke and debris from their fires to spread out over a wide area, while the aim is to keep the debris from Sunflower burns on the plant, she said.

Alliant personnel start monitoring weather conditions more than a week before scheduled burn dates. As the date approaches, attention is given to the predicted wind speed, direction and duration.

Federal, state and county environmental agencies are informed of impending burns, as are interested neighbors, Frazier said.

Air quality also plays a role. Frazier said Alliant doesn't burn on red-alert days.

As part of the preparation process, all equipment inside the buildings is marked with a heat-sensitive paint. If any of the paint remains after the burn, the fire did not get hot enough and there must be a "reburn," Frazier said. Thermocouples are placed in buildings whenever possible to provide a graph of the temperatures reached during fires, she said.

Fire retardant material is sprayed on the roofs of structures to assure interior fires reach the needed temperatures and that the roofs burn last, Frazier said. That makes for a cleaner fire that produces less debris, she said.

Water from osculating nozzles, known as ozzies at Sunflower, are also used to minimize the debris in the smoke columns, Frazier said.

The regulated removal of asbestos is performed after successful burns. Contractors also remove the decontaminated scrap, she said. Finally, Alliant documents all the data associated with the burn.

Frazier said she was confident the preparation and procedures Alliant follows keeps nearly all debris from the fires on Sunflower land."We don't have much get off the plant," she said.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.