Army accused of finagling for chemical burn

August 11, 1994|By Bruce Reid | Bruce Reid,Sun Staff Writer

A citizens' group fighting the planned incineration of chemical weapons at Aberdeen Proving Ground and elsewhere yesterday accused the Army of exaggerating the risk of continued storage at five depots to win congressional approval of the burning.

"The Army has tried to sell their incineration scheme based on fear, intimidation and lies," said Craig Williams, who heads the Kentucky-based Chemical Weapons Working Group. "The whole program should be reviewed" by Congress.

"The Army uses their risk assessments to threaten the communities," said Linda Koplovitz of Bel Air, a member of the citizens' group who also sits on a Maryland advisory panel studying the disposal plan.

In a move timed to cast aspersions on the Army's $861 million budget request for next year's work on the disposal program, the citizens accused the service of overstating the risk of continuing to store nerve-agent filled M55 rockets at five depots in Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oregon and Utah.

Congress is expected to take final action on the fiscal 1995 disposal budget next month.

Aberdeen has no M55 rockets, only bulk containers of mustard agent, a potentially lethal blistering compound.

Still, citizens opposed to incineration of the known carcinogen are pushing the Army to move the stockpile or close nearby Weide Army Airfield to lessen the risk of storage.

The Aberdeen stockpile, because of its proximity to the airfield and the dense population around it, poses the highest risk of a serious accident of any of the U.S. stockpile sites, according to a recent report from the National Research Council.

In essence, the Army has told communities around the M55 stockpiles that the munitions could spontaneously explode in less than 20 years and that burning the materials is the only viable way of getting rid of them in time.

"They [Army officials] were in this community in May saying these [rockets] were going to cook off and start blowing up in the next 10 years," said Mr. Williams, who lives near the Kentucky stockpile.

The Army acknowledged this week that the rockets have a longer storage life than previously predicted and said it would produce a report on the subject next month.

The citizens' group says the rockets are safe to store for more than 100 years, so the Army has time to pursue safer and cheaper alternatives to incineration.

Mark Evans, a top official in the Army's Chemical Materiel Destruction Agency, yesterday strongly denied that the Army "lied" about the rocket data to support incineration.

"This is being raised to challenge the Army's [incineration] technology," said Mr. Evans, whose agency has its headquarters at the Harford County proving ground. He said the Army still contends incineration is safer than continuing to store the material.

The National Research Council's study agreed with the Army's conclusions that incineration is the only technology available soon enough to alleviate storage risks and meet the 2004 deadline of an international treaty.

A council spokesman said researchers questioned the reliability of available data on M55 rocket safety and asked the Army to study the issue further.

"It is absolutely not true that the Army lied" about the data to further the incineration plan, said Carl Peterson, an engineer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who chaired the committee that produced the council's report.

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