for immediate release, Monday, November 24, 1997
VETERANS WARN OF "GULF WAR ILLNESS AT HOME; "OPPOSE ARMY PLANS TO INCINERATE CHEMICAL WEAPONS IN U.S.
As inspectors return to Iraq to assure that weapons of mass destruction are not being produced, veterans of the Gulf War are calling on the Pentagon to abandon its plan to burn 26,000 tons of chemical weapons at eight bases upwind of 180 million U.S. citizens. More than two dozen organizations representing Gulf War veterans endorsed a resolution opposing the current Pentagon chemical weapons incineration program and advocating safe disposal of chemical weapons at a recent meeting in Atlanta.
"Just as in the Gulf War where the Pentagon has denied any human health risk from exposure to low levels of chemical agents, the Government continues to claim there will be no health impacts from chemical weapons incineration in the U.S.," said Paul Sullivan, Executive Director of the National Gulf War Resource Center, a coalition of Gulf War Veterans groups. Sullivan added, "The claim that alarms from these facilities are false, mimics the pattern of denial, deception and incompetence witnessed during and since the Gulf War." The Army is currently testing chemical weapons incinerators in Tooele, Utah, and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Both plants have repeatedly been shut down because of agent leaks and other major malfunctions.
The groups' resolution charged that "low level exposure to nerve and mustard agents alone or in combination with other toxic compounds are highly suspected as being the cause or contributing significantly to the illnesses of thousands of Gulf War Veterans" and noted "there are non-incineration alternative technologies available that will not result in the release of chemical warfare agents and other toxics into the environment."
The Chemical Weapons Convention, which the U.S. has signed and ratified, calls for the destruction of lethal agents but does not specify how this task will be accomplished. The Pentagon chose incineration in the early 1980's and has not changed its plans despite evidence of health risks and the development of several alternative technologies.
"As we saw in the Gulf War, the Pentagon's safe exposure standards on nerve and mustard agent are outdated by more than 15 years and do not adequately protect workers, civilians and their environment," added Craig Williams, spokesman for the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG), a national coalition of groups supporting alternatives to incineration. "The Army must abandon its fixation on burning these dangerous materials and pursue the technologies that can destroy chemical weapons more safely."
Several groups representing veterans of Viet Nam, where agent orange exposure caused long-term health effects, also supported the anti-incineration resolution.
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