Chemical Weapons Working Group
P.O. Box 467
Berea, KY 40403
(859) 986-7565 (2695 -fax)
for more information contact:
Jason Groenewald: (801) 364-5110
Craig Williams: (859) 986-7565
Bob Schaeffer: (941) 395-6773
for immediate release: Friday, May 19, 2000
DID ARMY NEGLIGENCE CAUSE NERVE AGENT RELEASE?
DOCUMENTS SHOW REPEAT WARNINGS OF
INCINERATOR DESIGN FLAWS WHICH LED TO
RELEASE IGNORED BY ARMY IN THEIR "RUSH TO BURN"
Documents released today demonstrate that officials at the U.S. Army's
Tooele, Utah, chemical weapons incinerator repeatedly failed to address
problems with the design of that facility's deactivation furnace. A jam in
that component's feed chutes last week was the likely cause of two
releases of the nerve agent Sarin into the atmosphere.
According to reports and letters made public by groups advocating
alternatives to the incineration program, the Army knew from pilot plant
operations at Johnston Island in the Pacific and their Utah facility that
rockets had a tendency to get stuck as they were being fed into the
furnace. "Jamming of rockets has always been a serious concern, but the
Army never fixed the problem before building the Tooele incinerator," said
Jason Groenewold, Director Families Against Incinerator Risk in Salt
Lake City. "They were also told by several whistleblowers that the snags
could cause a nerve agent release, but they ignored the warnings."
According to a November 9, 1996 letter written by former Tooele
incinerator General Manager Gary Millar, "[T]he most recent problems
with rocket parts jamming in the DFS [Deactivation Furnace System]
feed chutes and the temporary fix periodically expose employees to risk . .
.. to clear these jams. Enough of these temporary or less than complete
work arounds will eventually line up to trigger a high risk event."
Recently released hand written memos and internal documents
attributed to Chief Safety Officer, Steve Jones indicate that the feed
chute problems continue to plague the plant. According to an August 10,
1999 memo, "Yesterday the chutes jammed again . . . the procedure
amazingly enough is to drop I-Beams down the chute to dislodge rocket
parts. Well, 2 of 5 I-beams they dropped came out - 3 others stuck. They
[the Army] aren't particularly concerned about an explosion, but should
A July 16, 1999 Army Corrective Action Response memo identifies
problems with agent leaking from the Deactivation Furnace feed chutes.
According to the document, the corrective action is to "Fix the leak(s) in
the DFS chutes." The Army's response: "In order to accomplish the
recommended corrective action, the chutes would have to be redesigned.
This is not feasible due to the amount of downtime required."
During the nerve agent releases last week, the feed chute gates would not
close, indicating that rocket parts were most likely jammed in the
chutes. When incinerator employees tried to push the stuck material
into the furnace, nerve agent monitors in the exhaust stacks alarmed at
levels 3.6-8.7 times higher than allowed under the Army's permit.
"If, as it appears, the feed chutes are the root cause of this release, the
Army can not claim it was unexpected or an anomaly," added Craig
Williams, national spokesperson for the Chemical Weapons Working
Group. "For the Army to allow nerve agent releases to occur when they
were warned repeatedly about these problems is nothing short of gross
negligence." Groenewold concluded, "It is completely unacceptable for
the Army to put cost and schedule ahead of public and worker safety."
The Tooele incinerator design, including the feed chutes, is being used as
the model for incinerators under construction in Oregon, Alabama, and
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