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Supervisor Says Army Chemical Facility Is Unsafe

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A supervisor at the Army’s chemical weapons incinerator in Utah alleged Tuesday that the plant has been hobbled by a pattern of sloppy environmental practices, including the mishandling of a 2,000-gallon spill of hazardous chemicals and the possible burning of a blister agent without a state permit.

The manager, Trina Allen, who made the allegations in an interview with The Times, is the third supervisor at the Army’s high-technology plant in Tooele, Utah, to allege health, safety and environmental problems during the past two years.

The incinerator is part of the Army’s $30-billion program to clean up and destroy the nation’s stocks of chemical weapons, which are stored at eight Army bases.

In the past two years, other plant executives, including former plant general manager Gary Millar and former safety chief Steven Jones, have alleged the incinerator is unsafe. But Allen’s allegations appear to be the most specific, and her charges are backed up by internal reports, her handwritten personal notes and other documentation. Allen is employed by EG&G;, the contractor that operates the Utah plant for the Army.

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Army spokeswoman Marilyn Tischbin confirmed that a toxic spill occurred at the plant last January, but she denied Allen’s allegations that it was not fully cleaned up. She also confirmed Allen’s disclosure that unexpected traces of arsenic, a poison, have been identified in the plant’s waste and cannot be fully explained.

The FBI and the Environmental Protection Agency are looking into Allen’s charges.

The issue is highly contentious, because environmental groups are seeking a court order to shut down the incinerator.

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Among the most technically serious problems cited by Allen involves the arsenic that the Army recently discovered in the plant waste. The plant is licensed to burn GB nerve agent, which is not known to contain arsenic.

Allen alleged that the Army itself suspects that the nerve agent may be contaminated with another chemical weapon known as Lewisite, a World War I-era, arsenic-based blister agent. If true, the Army could be violating its state environmental permits by burning the agent. Tischbin said the Army is not sure of the source of the arsenic and is looking into the matter.


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