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August 19, 2002
Volume 80, Number 33
CENEAR 80 33 p. 9
ISSN 0009-2347


CHEMICAL WEAPONS

ARMY ASKS TO BURN ROCKETS
Normal destruction doesn't work as nerve gas, stored for years, has gelled

LOIS EMBER

In mid-october, the Army plans to begin trial burns of sarin-filled rockets now stored in earthen bunkers near Anniston, Ala. But first it has to receive state approval for its request to burn undrained nerve-gas-filled rockets in a furnace designed only for explosive parts.

This fast burn rate has "not been tried before and they are doing it in the midst of 75,000 residents."

Brenda Lindell, a founder of Families Concerned about Nerve Gas Incineration

Under the Army's National Research Council-sanctioned destruction system, the nerve gas is drained from a rocket and burned in one furnace while the metal parts, including explosives, are burned in a separate furnace.

The Army is asking the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) to approve a departure from this scheme because sarin has gelled in about 30% of the nearly 43,000 rockets slated for destruction at the Anniston chemical agent disposal facility, Army spokesman Michael B. Abrams says. "DICI, or diisopropylcarbodiimide, added as a stabilizer, is the culprit" that caused gelling, he explains.

The department's approval would speed up rocket destruction but could potentially increase risk to the environment and to 75,000 people living within 9 miles of the facility. But Abrams contends, "If we protect our workforce, the community and environment will be protected as well."

Brenda Lindell, a founder of Families Concerned about Nerve Gas Incineration, counters that "the workers are there by choice. Children and the elderly living near the facility have no choice and no protection." She says that "the community is concerned about the change, concerned that we will be an experiment."

At the Army's Tooele, Utah, facility, the state permitted the Army to burn sarin-gelled rockets at the rate of one per hour. At Anniston, the Army is asking to destroy them during trial burns at a rate that could eventually reach 34 per hour.

ADEM has reviewed the Army's request and "has determined that everything looks good, looks sufficient" to proceed to the required comment period, spokesman Scott Hughes says. Data from trial burns of surrogates and public comments will determine whether ADEM approves the Army's request, he adds.



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