(The following is excerpted from the April 1998 issue of "Common Sense," the newsletter of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, published by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation.)
Tragedy occurred at the Pacific chemical weapons incinerator on November 27, 1997 when a welder, David Gibbs, was killed while repairing a feed chute in the Deactivation Furnace System (DFS). Gibbs was an employee of Raytheon Demilitarization Co., the Army contractor at the incinerator, called the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS). None of the other three workers in the room were injured.
Gibbs was repairing a "tipping valve" on the DFS feed chute when an overhead section of the chute fell on him. Raytheon did not require training for the type of work he was doing, and there was no written description of how to approach the problem in his work order. The DFS feed chutes have been problematic for the JACADS facility since 1990. In March of that year, a jam in the feed chutes resulted in a fire in the DFS room. Attempts to solve the feed gate problems have led to several equipment modifications. It appears that the equipment Gibbs was working on had received an approved permit modification. Lack of approval of such a modification would mean there was no standard operating procedure for repair of the equipment, a factor which may have contributed to his death.
In a December 1997 letter to Department of Defense officials, Hawaiian Congressional Representative Patsy Mink stated, "The employees on Johnston Atoll work with very hazardous conditions. Numerous accidents and injuries have been reported over the last few years. In 1990, these workers were denied the ability to organize a union....In light of this tragedy, and to prevent a perception of impropriety, I strongly urge you to establish an independent investigation team outside of the military."
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