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EG&G Report on Nerve Gas Releases Shows Army Has Covered-Up Major Flaws and Has Used Shell Game to Avoid Fixing Problems


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CHEMICAL WEAPONS WORKING GROUP
P.O. Box 467, Berea, Kentucky 40403
Phone: (859) 986-7565 Fax: (859) 986-2695
e-mail: kefwilli @ acs.eku.edu
web: www.cwwg.org

for more information contact:
Craig Williams: (859) 986-7565
Jason Groenewold: (801) 364-5110
Bob Schaeffer: ( 941) 395-6773

for immediate release: Wednesday, June 28, 2000

NEW CONTRACTOR REPORT ON NERVE GAS RELEASE AT TOOELE INCINERATOR SHOWS ARMY HAS COVERED-UP MAJOR TECHNICAL, OPERATIONAL FLAWS; "EVENTS" INCREASE RAPIDLY, AGENT ALARMS REGULARLY IGNORED; ACTIVISTS SAY "SHELL GAME" HAS BEEN USED TO AVOID FIXING PROBLEMS

An as-yet-unpublished report by the contractor at the Army's Tooele, Utah, chemical weapons incinerator analyzing the causes of that facility's May 8 and 9 nerve agent leaks "paints a chilling picture of complacency and intentional cover-ups of serious problems," according to incinerator critics.

The report, drafted by EG&G Defense Materials, Inc. was obtained by Families Against Incinerator Risk (FAIR) of Salt Lake City. FAIR Director Jason Groenewold explained, "The document makes clear that the Army has been covering-up problems rather than fixing them in a desperate attempt to stay on schedule. For example, the incinerator staff regularly ignores agent monitoring alarms, violates written safety rules and improvises procedures to deal with emergencies. As a result of poor practices like these, nerve agent leaked out the stack on May 8 and 9."

"The EG&G report has national implications," added Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a network of groups monitoring the agent disposal program. "The Army claims its 'lessons learned' program is the hub which protects public safety. But if it fails to correct mistakes and learn from them in Utah, what are the implications for incinerators under construction in Alabama, Oregon and Arkansas?"

Groenewold and Williams cited a number of specific conclusions in the EG&G report to support their claims:

  • "The Training program as executed did not ensure the shift operators and supervisors learned and retained the fundamental knowledge and understanding of plant components; their functions and controls . ."
  • "In the 96 days from January 1, 2000 to April 5, 2000, there were 197 ACAMS [nerve agent monitor] alarms, and 80 of these were false positive alarms. The period between September 1999 and December 1999 had an even higher rate of ACAMS alarms."
  • "An examination of quality assurance records was conducted that shows a recent trend toward more frequent events at TOCDF. Until recently the site had experienced no more than 13 events in any given month according to the Quality Assurance records. There have been 22 events in March, 25 events in April and 10 events in the first 10 days of May with the plant's first confirmed agent release."
  • "Several outstanding corrective action items have been closed by opening another action item, sometimes in a different system. In particular, Engineering Change Proposals (ECPs) have been used to close event-related corrective actions. The ECPs in and of themselves do not accomplish the corrective action; they only start a process."

    Groenewold said the latter point is "evidence of a classic shell game." He continued, "If an event requires a corrective action, they just issue a piece of paper to close it out in one system and move it to another. That does not mean that anything has been done about it. Nothing may have been fixed."

    According to the EG&G report, the Deactivation Furnace System (DFS) design requirements include the ability to "Thermally destroy agent vapors". But, because the agent has gelled in a significant number of the rockets and can not be drained as called for in the plant design, the Army is cutting up fully loaded rockets and feeding pounds of agent into the DFS.

    "This causes multiple problems like fires outside the furnace, agent being partially burned off in the feed chute and gumming up of the feed gates," says Groenewold."Furthermore they have never run a trial burn or tested the emissions while operating in this manner and they refuse to do so. Clearly this untested practice contributed to the release out the stack." The Army plans to follow this same experimental practice at their incinerators in Alabama, Oregon and Arkansas.

    Williams pointed to recommendations in the report urging that "Operators should be instructed that plant safety should be achieved over facility production for off normal and emergency facility conditions" and "Operators and supervisors should believe instrument readings and treat them as accurate unless proven otherwise."

    "Why would they have to stress these basic points unless the culture of the plant puts production over safety," Williams concluded.

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    Key excerpts from the EG&G report are available on request.



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