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Army To Burn Nerve Gases in Oregon

Author: Not Specified
Publication: Associated Press
Document Dated: July 29, 1997
Date Posted: August 3, 1997

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Oregon's emergency preparedness officer wants another $800,000 from the U.S. Army to better equip state and local authorities in case of an accident at the Umatilla Army Depot.

``Regardless of preventive measures, we think we would have exposures'' to nerve gas if something goes wrong during the incineration program, Jan F. Glarum told a congressional staff briefing Monday in Portland.

The Army plans to build an incinerator at the 30-square-mile Umatilla depot, where nearly 12 percent of the nation's chemical weapons -- about 7.2 million pounds -- are stored. To build and operate the incinerator will cost $1.3 billion.

It is safer to burn the weapons than to continue storing them, the Army has decided. Many of the munitions are leaking, and all are vulnerable to earthquakes and lightning strikes.

Under the Army's plans, the incinerator would be on line in just three years.

Although the Army has spent more than $30 million on emergency preparedness for the incineration project, Glarum said not enough has been done to equip medical crews in neighboring towns.

He recommended that local emergency crews be given nerve gas detectors to keep them from becoming casualties as they try to reach potential victims.

Relying on the Army to bring equipment from the depot would take too long, and the Army instruments use time-consuming tests to detect low levels of a chemical agent, Glarum said.

Emergency crews need equipment that can quickly detect dangerous levels of gas, he said.

A few weeks ago, the Army decided to distribute nerve gas antidote kits, known as Mark 1 auto-injectors, to hospitals, clinics and other medical organizations near the depot.

A General Accounting Office released in June said the Umatilla depot was one of several nationwide that lacked the tools to respond effectively to a deadly leak.

In a worst-case scenario, the Army has estimated that up to 3,740 people within 17 miles of the depot would be killed in the event of a catastrophic accident, such as the crash of an airliner into a chemical rocket bunker.

A more recent Oregon Health Division study predicted as many as 30 severe and possibly fatal exposure cases and another 900 cases ranging from moderate exposure to stress, with no real exposure.

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