Editorial: Where there’s smoke there’s ... ?

Editorial Board • Jul 24, 2019 at 5:15 PM

“I’m not going to comment on what was in that smoke.”

And that was that. Move on. None of your business.

The smoke in question rose from the site of an explosion in January at the Holston Army Ammunition Plant (HAAP). The none-of-your-business comment came from Col. Luis Ortiz, commander of the Pine Bluff Arsenal (of which HAAP is a subordinate) at a July 18 meeting meant to share information about what BAE Systems and the U.S. Army are doing to end open burning at the facility, which produces explosives.

Excuse us, sir, but “no comment” isn’t acceptable.

The public deserves to know what went into the air that day in January. Refusing to inform the public of the composition of that smoke seen by so many is irresponsible and strongly suggests that the smoke posed a threat to public health.

If there was no threat, say so. But Col. Ortiz went on the defensive with a single sentence meant to end that line of questioning then and there. And it did. And that tactic rightly raised suspicions.

While the visibility of the smoke raised concerns, the shock wave of the explosion caught even more attention.

“The wave is the danger,” said Joe Kennedy, the HAAP commander’s representative. “You will get fragments out of any explosion, but it’s the detonation velocity and the wave that we’re worried about for our work force and also the community.”

Fair enough. Fragments kill, injure and cause damage.

But so can smoke. Ask any firefighter.

Almost as disappointing as the colonel’s refusal to disclose the composition of the smoke was the conspicuous absence of elected officials — or their representatives — at the meeting. No city officials or state lawmakers attended. Is the January explosion so far in the rear-view mirror that it is off their radar?

Perhaps so. But it isn’t off the radar of those who live nearby. They want, and deserve, answers.

A BAE Systems spokesman said the investigation into the explosion is “very close” to completion.

Frankly, we won’t hold our collective breath that the final report will tell us much, if it’s even released. Or maybe we should hold our breath. You know, in case there’s another explosion … with smoke.

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