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More Than 1,000 Leaking Chemical Weapons Discovered

April 13, 1988

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Army’s problem with aging chemical weapons is likely to worsen in future years unless the outdated stockpile is destroyed, say officials who report that more than 1,000 of the weapons have sprung leaks.

Army officials who reported the figure on Tuesday said it represents only ″a small percentage″ of the American arsenal, but Sen. John Glenn, D- Ohio, was still worried.

″That’s frightening: 1,000 leakers,″ he said. ″That’s a serious problem.″

Army officials agreed with Glenn when he said ″the problem is not going to get less″ as the stockpile, already averaging 25 years old, continues to age.

Acting on congressional orders, the Army has come up with a plan to destroy the chemical weapons at the eight U.S. sites where they are stored, but plans for local burning in closed incinerators face some opposition, Army officials said.

The leaking weapons are quickly enclosed in newer, safer containers, Brig. Gen. David Nydam told the Senate Armed Services subcommittee on strategic weapons.

Nydam said the number of leaking weapons is only ″a small percentage″ of the total U.S. stockpile, but he declined to publicize the size of the stockpile, telling the subcommittee the figure is classified. Published reports have estimated the stockpile, by weight, at between 25,000 and 40,000 tons.

The current U.S. stockpile, which was built before 1969, consists of unitary weapons, which include artillery shells and bombs filled with a variety of chemicals and nerve gases.

The Army is now starting to manufacture newer chemical weapons, known as binary weapons because they are composed of two chemicals kept separate until the shell is fired or bomb is dropped.

As part of the compromise that ended a long fight with Congress over whether to build new chemical weapons, the Army agreed to come up with a plan to destroy the old stockpile. The incineration plan will cost $2.7 billion and take until 1997, service officials said.

Army officials say almost all the current stockpile is so old that the weapons are militarily useless.

The weapons are stored at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.; Anniston Army Depot, Ala.; Lexington-Blue Grass Army Depot, Ky.; Newport Army Ammunition Plant, Ind.; Pine Bluff Arsenal, Ark.; Pueblo Army Depot, Colo.; Tooele Army Depot, Utah; and Umatilla Army Depot, Ore.

U.S. chemical weapons are also based in West Germany and stored on Johnston Atoll, a deserted island about 400 miles south of Hawaii.

The Army says the safest method of destruction is incineration in closed containers at the eight sites, a plan opposed by communities in some of the areas.

John Shannon, assistant secretary of the Army, said residents of the areas around the Aberdeen, Newport and Lexington storage sites have objected to the incineration plans. At the other five sites, he said, residents ″have expressed the desire that we get on with it.″

Shannon was told by Sen. Daniel Quayle, R-Ind., that the Army should do a better job of selling its plan to the public.

″There’s been some progress (in swaying public opinion), but we’ve got a long way to go,″ Quayle said. ″We in the Senate become involved when our constituency feels it is shortchanged.″

Shannon admitted mistakes were made at the site in Quayle’s state. ″We did not do a good job in Newport in the beginning,″ he said. ″We’ll have to do better.″

Other destruction options considered by the Army included transportation of all the weapons by rail to Tooele, where they would be burned; or transportation of some to Tooele and others to Anniston. But both those plans involve movement of the weapons through at least 16 other states and opposition would likely surface in some of those states, Shannon said.

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