U.S. Army Urged To Accelerate Chemical Weapons Destruction
The U.S. Army should pursue options to accelerate the disposal of chemical weapons currently stored at a facility in Anniston, Alabama, according to a new report from the National Academies’ National Research Council. The report recommends that the Army focus on disposal of rockets that contain gelled sarin, a toxic chemical warfare agent.
The rockets take about 30 times longer to destroy than rockets containing liquid nerve agents, according to the panel, and destroying them safely and quickly would allow the Army to reduce risks to the public resulting from their extended storage, said the committee that wrote the report.
“Because there is a small chance that stored sarin and VX filled rockets might self ignite at any time and release toxic agents and metals, these rockets need to be destroyed as soon as possible,” said James F. Mathis, a retired engineer from Exxon Corporation and chair of the committee.
The Army believes that gelled rockets can be destroyed at a rate as high as 9.2 rockets per hour, but this has not been proved.
The committee agrees with the Army’s estimate and recommends that, in coordination with local and state governments and regulatory agencies, the Army should act promptly to demonstrate that the higher rate can be achieved safely at the Anniston facility.
The panel recommends that the Army assesses the risks associated with emissions resulting from destruction of gelled rockets as rapidly as possible, and communicate the results to workers, the public, and elected officials, the committee said.
The report urges the Army to monitor emissions more frequently than it is doing now.
In addition to increasing the disposal rate for gelled rockets, the Army is considering changing the order in which rockets and other munitions are processed. In its new plan, the Army envisions a different order for processing the sarin and VX weapons – sarin rockets and munitions first, and then VX rockets and munitions. This schedule, according to the Army, would cut about 10 months from the original 7.2 year timeline for destroying the Anniston stockpile.
The panel says that because quicker disposal could reduce health risks to workers and the public, the Army should seek immediate approval from local regulatory authorities and implement the new plan without delay after approval is granted, the committee said.
More than 100, 000 people live within 30 miles of the Army facility and many are fearful of possible exposure to chemical agents from the incineration. The Army’s incineration plan was delayed temporarily delayed this summer due to local concerns, but has since proceeded forward.
The new plan should be communicated clearly to stakeholders for input and feedback, according to the committee.
“The Army’s plans for weapons disposal at Anniston have also been delayed because of troubled relations among the various stakeholders,” Mathis said. “It continues to be important that the Army improve communications with local communities, both to promote a better understanding of the risk issues and to address any valid public concerns.”
Provided by theEnvironmental News Service.