State environmental regulators, the Army and the Army Corps of Engineers are investigating complaints of faulty installation involving the electrical system in a chemical weapons destruction plant under construction at Tooele Army Depot.
As installed, the electrical system could pose a danger to workers in the plant because it could allow dangerous gases to pass from room to room, according to documents submitted to the state's Solid and Hazardous Waste Division. When completed, the plant will be used to incinerate Tooele Army Depot's stockpile of nerve and mustard gas weapons.If the concerns prove valid, re-designing and replacing the plant's electrical system could cost taxpayers $23.5 million, the Army said Tuesday.
"We have received the letter from the state and are putting a team together to look into the allegations. We consider these pretty serious allegations," said Marilyn Tischban, spokeswoman for the Army's Chemical Demilitarization Program, based in Aberdeen, Md.
Documents were submitted to the state by Downwinders, an environmental advocacy group that received them from an electrician at the site. The unidentified electrician says the electrical conduit installation and sealing at the plant violates the national electrical code, which provides installation methods that prevent gases from escaping through conduit.
The concerns were previously addressed by the Army Corps of Engineers and the project's contractor, documents said. The response said the electrical code recommendations are designed to prevent flammable gases from escaping, while the plant's ventilation system is designed to control the flow of any leaking gas and protect workers.
But the Army agreed to reinvestigate the allegations and submit a report to the state, which has authority to restrict or revoke the Army's permit to operate the plant.
"We will let them respond and look into ourselves. We want to look at the design and review what they are doing," said Cheryl Heying, an engineer in the division's permitting section. No deadline has been set for the Army's response.
Tischban said the program headquarters team will investigate why employees are going to the state with complaints. "We will look at it as a management problem," she said.
The chemical demilitarization program came under fire recently after the Army disclosed management and design problems escalated the cost of the Tooele plant from $49 million to $184 million and delayed its completion by more than a year.
"It seems this (possible electrical system problem) is typical of the program and certainly one of the factors of it being overbudget and behind schedule," said Downwinders spokesman Steve Erickson. "Of more serious concern is that poor design could pose serious safety consequences to workers and the general public in the future."