Weapons Incinerator May Not Be Allowed to Burn Mustard
128 Main St.
Berea KY 40403
more information contact: Karyn Jones (541) 567-6579
Stu Sugarman (503) 228-6655
Mick Harrison (859) 321-1586
Richard Condit (202) 265-7337
Craig Williams (859) 986-7565
for immediate release: Wednesday, April 18, 2007
OREGON CHEMICAL WEAPONS INCINERATOR MAY NOT
BE ALLOWED TO BURN MUSTARD
Recognizes Mercury and Other Dangers May Block Burning Mustard Agent,
Protective Suits and Other Material at Umatilla
Portland, OR -- A Multnomah County Circuit Court in Oregon,
regarding the Army's chemical weapons incinerator, has ordered the
state's Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and Environmental
Quality Commission (EQC) to "determine that the facility will employ
'the best available technology' for disposal of the agents and
munitions and will have 'no major adverse effect on ’Ä¶[p]ublic health
and safety' or the [e]nvironment of adjacent lands."
Attorney Mick Harrison, lead trial counsel for GASP, Sierra Club,
Oregon Wildlife Federation and the other individual Petitioners, stated
that "this decision is a substantial victory for the concerned citizen
and environmental groups. It effectively prohibits incineration of the
mustard agent and dunnage waste streams at the facility until DEQ/ EQC
have thoroughly examined the question of the best technology and
procedures for dealing with both the mercury contamination in the
mustard agent and dioxin formation from incineration of the dunnage
The decision marks the first judicial recognition of potential public
health impacts caused by incineration of chemical weapons and
associated hazardous wastes. Although Judge Michael Marcus did not
revoke Umatilla's operating permit, since the facility has not yet
started to treat the 5 million pounds of mustard stored there, he did
find that the Army's plans to burn the mustard, recently found to have
higher concentrations of mercury than earlier believed, must be
reassessed before such operations can take place.
Citizen groups and individuals from the area have been battling the
Army and state agencies for 10 years, claiming that incineration is not
the best and most protective method of destroying the chemical weapons
and advocating instead for a safer neutralization process.
"Incineration does not and cannot destroy mercury, but simply disperses
mercury, a toxic and persistent poison, into the environment, " said
Harrison. "In addition, incineration actually creates the ultra toxic
chemical dioxin, and produces substantial amounts of dioxin when wastes
such as Umatilla's plastic DPE protective suits are burned. If the DEQ
insists on proceeding with the outdated and dangerous incineration
technology, additional legal challenges can be expected," he
GASP Director, Karyn Jones added, "Given that breast-fed infants in the
U.S. on average already have an intake of dioxin some 50 times greater
than the virtually safe dose set by the, EPA and the Agency for Toxic
Substances, obviously incineration is not the way to go."
Considering the shortcomings of incineration, the Army will be
hard-pressed to pass the legal test Judge Marcus assigned, according to
co-counsel Richard Condit, "By its nature, the incineration
process used by the Army produces pollution emissions which the court
found to be potentially hazardous and possibly illegal."
Portland attorney Stu Sugarman, who also served as trial counsel
said, "This is what we've been telling the judge for 10 years
now. This is by far our biggest victory in this litigation to date."
Sugarman added that this decision will "prevent the facility from
spewing high concentrations of mercury through its smokestacks and
ultimately into the bodies of unsuspecting children downwind of the
facility in Hermiston, Oregon and other cities."
Dr. Bob Palzer, of the Oregon Sierra Club said, "State law, this
ruling, and hot water, not fire are the most common sense recipe for
guaranteed safe destruction of the mustard agent at Umatilla.
Neutralization is a proven technology and was used efficiently to
destroy identical material in Maryland."
"There is no need to incinerate this material," stated Craig Williams,
director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, who organized the suit.
"Safer approaches exist and must be used if the State and the Army wish
to live up to their responsibilities of protecting citizens while
ridding us of our own WMDs."
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