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Groups Sue to Block Burning Weapons

March 12, 2003

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) _ A coalition representing towns near Army bases with obsolete chemical weapon stockpiles filed suit Tuesday seeking to force the military to consider alternatives to incineration.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., seeks to halt plans for burning the weapons in Oregon, Alabama, Arkansas and Utah.

The suit claims the Army violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately consider alternatives to incineration, which the groups fear will send toxic chemicals into the environment.

The coalition of environmental, civil rights and veterans organizations includes the Sierra Club, the Oregon Toxics Alliance and the Chemical Weapons Working Group, based in Kentucky.

Bob Palzer, a Sierra Club spokesman and retired chemist, said even the most efficient incinerators are likely to emit traces of toxic chemicals.

The Army decided to build chemical weapons incinerators at eight chemical weapons stockpile sites in 1982. But it since has abandoned incineration plans in Colorado, Kentucky, Indiana and Maryland.

In those four states, the Army plans to use technology that uses water and other liquids to neutralize the chemicals, said Greg Mahall, spokesman for the Army’s chemical materials agency in Maryland.

The neutralization technology works best with bulk agents, which are stored in Maryland and Indiana, Mahall said. Kentucky and Colorado have smaller stockpiles so neutralization will be used there as well, he said.

But in Oregon, Alabama, Arkansas and Utah, chemicals are contained mostly in individual weapons, making the incineration method more effective, Mahall said.

He said the Army does not comment on pending litigation.

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