Sierra Club - - Oregon Chapter
3701 S. E. Milwaukie Ave. Suite F
Portland, OR. 97202
for more information contact:
Bob Palzer, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter
Mari Margil, Sierra Club Oregon Chapter
Craig Williams, Chemical Weapons Working Group
for immediate release: Wednesday, July 26, 2000
OREGON SENATORS JOIN IN CALL FOR GAO REVIEW OF EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS AROUND CHEMICAL WEAPONS DISPOSAL SITE
UTAH CHEMICAL AGENT RELEASE PROMPTS QUESTIONS ABOUT
EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS AND MANAGEMENT IN OREGON
In the aftermath of the May 8-9 chemical agent releases at the Army's Tooele, Utah incinerator, Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Gordon Smith have joined with other members of Congress in requesting the General Accounting Office (GAO) to review the emergency preparedness of communities where chemical weapons are stored. Chemical weapons stored in Umatilla, Oregon are slated for disposal by incineration in a facility modeled after the Utah incinerator.
Joining Congressional members from Utah and Alabama, Senators Wyden and Smith co-signed a letter to the GAO which states,
"A recent release of GB (sarin) gas at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Utah has raised issues in some communities near chemical weapons storage sites about how effectively the [Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program] is managed and whether these communities are sufficiently prepared to respond to a chemical stockpile accident at the site."
This GAO review request is the latest in a series of inquiries made by local officials, state environmental regulators, and federal elected officials on events surrounding the May chemical agent release in Utah. The Calhoun County Alabama Commissioners were the first officials outside the state of Utah to raise concerns about the agent release. In a strong letter to Alabama's Senator Jim Sessions and Representative Bob Riley, the Commissioners expressed their lack of trust in the Army's ability to adequately investigate the incident, as well as the current emergency preparedness plan for communities living nearby chemical weapons stockpile sites. For example, the letter pointed out that after eight years of leading citizens to believe that they should evacuate their homes following a chemical agent incident, the Army now recommends that citizens disregard the evacuation approach and instead stay in their homes and close their windows and doors.
The Commissioners also criticized the Army for not using the latest data on nerve agent toxicity in its protective action recommendations to local emergency officials. The Commissioners said that some of the stockpiled agents have been found to be twice as toxic as the Army estimated.
Now that Senators Wyden and Smith have joined the call for a GAO investigation, Oregon's emergency preparedness program will be closely examined as well.
"Last year, I requested a GAO study outlining what steps needed to be taken to ensure an effective emergency preparedness program for the Umatilla Depot is in place," Wyden said. "Clearly, the Utah incident indicates that there is a need for improvement. We cannot afford to rest in our efforts to bolster emergency preparedness to protect the health and safety of Oregonians."
Dr. Bob Palzer of the Oregon Chapter of the Sierra Club said, "A sound emergency preparedness program is vital to ensure public protection from these chemicals. But the best way to lower the risks of public exposure to chemical agents is to use safer weapons disposal technologies."
Craig Williams, Director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, agreed saying, "The way these chemical weapons incinerators are designed, chemical agent will continue to be released into the environment. As long as there's a smokestack, chemical agents will have a direct route into the environment."
Citizens groups have been calling for non-incineration technologies for chemical weapons disposal in Oregon and other chemical weapons sites. Technologies demonstrated through the federal Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment (ACWA) program could replace incineration for disposal of Oregon's chemical weapons. These technologies have the capability to contain by-products rather than releasing them into the environment through a smokestack.
Non-incineration technology pilot plants for chemical agent destruction are under construction in Maryland and Indiana. Incinerators are not permitted for Colorado or Kentucky, where ACWA technologies may be deployed for weapons disposal.
Copies of the letter to the GAO are available upon request.
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