6 Million Pounds of M6 Propellant Left to the Elements
THE RESIDENTS OF DOYLINE, LOUISIANA, facing the possibility of an apocolyptic ka-boom, have relocated from their town to more distant shelters for safety's sake. Government inspectors, looking over a former munitions plant, found what at first was believed to be 1 million pounds of explosives that turned out to be 6 million pounds that was scattered and hidden away over the entire complex that is now a local industrial park.
Louisiana State Police photo
The 400-acre site that is problematic is under the control of Explo Systems, Inc., a business firm that disposes unwanted and/or outdated military explosives. An unexplained explosion on site in October that shook the entire town triggered an investigation by the Louisiana State Police, and it was their investgator that uncovered the huge cache of improperly-stored explosives. The State Police began removing the explosives this weekend but are concerned about the possibility of things like a lightning strike causing another ka-boom. So they called for a voluntary evacuation while they carried out the removal.
Officials estimate that more than half of Doyline's 800 residents heeded police advice to evacuate in advance of the cleanup at the Explo Systems Inc. site. Col. Mike Edmondson, commander of Louisiana State Police, said the material is stable and would need an ignition source to explode. The precautions were taken because officials fear that any spark could set off a huge explosion of the material, which they said was stored improperly in a relatively small area.
Edmondson was hesitant to estimate when it would be safe for Doyline residents to return home. He also said state police weren't sure how much damage an explosion of the material could cause, even after consulting with Department of Defense officials.
"Nobody can tell you what 6 million pounds of explosives would do if it went up," Edmondson said in a telephone interview. "And I don't want to find out."
Edmonson said that Explo Systems leases and controls about 400 acres of the 15,000-acre Camp Minden, a former ammunition plant that now is a state-owned industrial site and home to a National Guard training facility. He estimated that the M6 propellant was stored in an area of less than 10 acres. It was discovered there, stored indoors and outdoors, sometimes in containers that had spilled open, by a trooper following up on an October explosion at the facility.
Louisiana State Police photo
Authorities had initially estimated the total of M6 stored at the site at 1 million pounds after the first investigator saw cardboard boxes on long rows of pallets behind a building. Police found more stacked in sheds and warehouses when crews returned Saturday to begin moving the boxes into bunkers about two miles away on the former munitions site, state police spokesman Capt. Doug Cain said Sunday.
"It wasn't in their storage magazines. They had it hidden on the property, away from the storage magazines where we would expect to find it," Cain said.
Edmonson said "it was stuffed in corners. It was stacked all over."
Explo is now the subject of a criminal investigation, state police said.
This aerial video of the hidden stash was taken by the Louisiana State Police:
By Sunday night police and Explo employees had removed approx. 1 million pounds of the explosives and segregated another 240,000 lbs. A police spokesman says that he expects to be able to lift the evacuation order by Tuesday evening.
State police are continuing their investigation into when and how the powder came to be stored outdoors and in open air buildings. Explo’s vice president of operations has worked with state police since the beginning of the investigation, however, the owners have been in South Korea and are expected to return to the country today, Edmonson said. Explo’s manufacturing operations have been suspended, but powder is still be sold and distributed to buyers.
The powder is being loaded onto 18-wheelers (27 are involved in the operation) and trucked about two miles across the reservation to bunkers. So far, no incidents or injuries have occurred.
"It’s safe when its shipped and packaged properly," Edmonson said. "It’s in its safest form. We’re comfortable with working with it. Our concern is there’s so much of it in a small area. That’s the one thing you don’t want to do with this product."
Hat tip to Mark Donovan.
* * * * * * *