Chemical Weapons Working Group
P.O. Box 467
Berea, KY 40403
(859) 986-7565 (2695 -fax)
for more information call: Craig Williams (859) 986-7565
Jason Groenewold (801) 364 -5110
for immediate release: Thursday May 11, 2000
CHEMICAL AGENT LEAK AT UTAH INCINERATOR ISN'T THE FIRST
BUT MUST BE THE LAST, SAY ACTIVISTS
Army self-investigation unacceptable when they knew of problems
which led to release
Army officials admitted Wednesday that the deadly GB (Sarin) nerve agent was emitted into the environment out the smokestack of the Army's chemical weapons incinerator in Utah. It was the first time the Army has admitted to such a release at the Utah facility. Grassroots groups who oppose the use of incineration to dispose of the more than 25,000 tons of nerve agent stored in the U.S. claim that many such releases have occured in the past, but have always been covered up by the Army.
Craig Williams, spokesperson for the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG) said, "We have evidence of several nerve agent releases from the Army's Utah incinerator. For some reason the Army couldn't cover this one up." Chemical weapons incinerators emit hundreds of toxic chemicals including low levels of nerve agent out of their smokestacks even under normal operating conditions. During upsets or unexpected events such as Monday's, larger quantities and more concentrated agents can be released. The smokestack creates a direct route to the atmosphere and is a fundamental flaw in the incineration process. The CWWG has been calling for the Army to switch to advanced non-incineration technologies, such as neutralization, that significantly reduce the amount of toxic by-products and eliminate the direct route problems in a way that combustion technologies can't. "The health threat posed by agent releases and other incineration emissions is unnecessary and unacceptable," said Williams.
Last February former whistleblower, now reinstated, Chief Safety Officer Steve Jones stated before the Utah governor-appointed Citizens Advisory Commission that, "incineration is an exact science and it is virtually impossible for agent to ever go out the stack." Activists recently revealed internal documents and handwritten memos sent to them by Jones which paint a different picture and predict the very type of agent release that took place on Monday
Chip Ward, board member of the local grassroots group, Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR), said, "The documents sent to us by Jones show the Army knew of the problems that led to Monday night's leak and did nothing about it in order to stay on schedule and keep costs down. The Army tells communities that public and worker safety is the number one priority, but it's just not true. Credibility and safety go together. The Army is not credible and the incinerator is not safe"
The CWWG is calling on Utah's Governor Leavitt and members of Congress to launch investigations into this incident and the chronic problems that led to it before allowing the Army to restart operations. According to Williams, "There have been continuous system failures, worker exposures and agent releases at the Army's chemical weapons incinerators in the Pacific and in Utah. Each time the Army investigates itself, it is pronounced that 'all is well' and the Army goes right back to business as usual. This self-policing is inadequate and dangerous."
"The Army knew, or should have known, this event was inevitable," said FAIR Director Jason Groenewold. "This nerve agent release isn't the first, but Governor Leavitt and our Federal officials should ensure that it is the last."
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