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
for more information contact:
Craig Williams (859) 986-7565
Karyn Jones (541) 567-6581
for immediate release Sunday, July 30, 2000
WORKER EXPOSURE LAWSUIT AT OREGON
CHEM. WEAPONS INCINERATOR REVEALS RECKLESSNESS
OF ARMY'S "RUSH TO BURN" --
ANTI-INCINERATION ACTIVISTS POINT TO COVER-UP PATTERN,
SAY "ARMY WILL GO TO ANY LENGTHS
TO SAVE INCINERATION PROGRAM"
A lawsuit being filed on Monday, charging the U.S. Army and its contractor with covering up toxic agent exposures of workers at the Umatilla, Oregon site where a chemical weapons incinerator is being built, reveals the Army's "rush to burn without regard to the consequences," say opponents.
Leaders of the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG), a coalition of organizations which support alternative technologies for destroying the nation's nerve gas stockpile, joined with the injured workers and their attorneys in calling for suspending construction and operation of all Army incinerators pending an independent investigation of the Oregon incident.
CWWG spokesman Craig Williams explained, "In their desperation to burn, the Army behaves as if its motto is, 'Damn the workers and neighbors, full speed ahead.' They are so fixated on cost and schedule slippage that they appear willing to go to any lengths to save the program." The chemical weapons incineration program is 14 years behind schedule and 900% over budget, according to General Accounting Office reports.
The lawsuit alleges that the Army and Raytheon Demilitarization Corporation, Inc., its contractor at Umatilla, concealed leaks of mustard and the nerve gas Sarin which left 34 workers ill last September 15. Though workers were hospitalized and the job site temporarily shut down, the Army and Raytheon claim that no chemical agent was detected, but also say they don't know the cause. Documents uncovered via the Freedom of Information Act, however, indicate that chemical agents were detected nearby the site nearly two dozen times during six days around the incident.
Karyn Jones, a local resident and founder of the anti-incineration group GASP, said, " This again illustrates that the Army and its contractors will do anything to keep the incineration program moving forward. If the Army and contractors are so inept to let these incidents occur during construction I hate to think what will happen if they are allowed to burn these deadly agents in incinerators that will be dispersing effluents through open stacks into our community. I am also very concerned that Oregon Department of Environmental Quality didn't investigate the incidents more thoroughly when it is their job to protect human health and the environment."
Army officials have offered a series of explanations for the illnesses including fumes from paint, fiberglass, and epoxy, but none fit the workers' symptoms. At one point the Army claimed "pepper spray" was the cause, although no explanation was given as to how it could have gotten into the construction site. All these causes were later eliminated.
Reports show that Raytheon managers turned down initial offers of aid from Depot medical and local emergency medical personnel. CWWG's Williams concluded, "Just as in the case of the recent incident at Tooele, the Army and its contractors refuse to believe that chemical agents can be the problem even when there's strong evidence to the contrary. Workers were laying on the ground begging for help and Raytheon refused assistance.....how is this possible....unless they were hiding something?"
Jones asked, "Why can't the Army and Raytheon tell us what made the workers sick? If they treat their own workers with such disdain, how can we trust them to protect our health if they ever fire up the incinerator? In Utah, they didn't even bother to notify the community until four hours after a confirmed nerve agent smokestack leak. " Operations at the Army's Tooele, Utah, chemical weapons incinerator have been suspended for more than two months after a May leak in an attempt to correct flaws in its design. The Umatilla facility is modeled after the Utah incinerator.
- - 3 0 - -
Information about the Umatilla worker lawsuit can be obtained from their attorney James McCandlish at (503) 224-2348.
CWWG Home Page