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REPORT BACKS UP WHISTLEBLOWER

SHARE REPORT BACKS UP WHISTLEBLOWER

Copies of a report purportedly leaked from the Army inspector general's office support claims the Army is hiding flaws in the chemical weapons incineration facility at Tooele Army Depot.

Whistleblower Steve Jones, who was fired from his job as the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility's safety chief in September, has initiated state and Army investigations into the plant after claiming its design and operating policies have catastrophic flaws that could lead to fatal releases of toxic chemical agents.Jones was an inspector for the inspector general's office before taking the safety post at the Tooele plant. He has been pushing the Army since his firing to release the inspector general's report, saying it would back up his safety and design complaints.

A state Occupational Health and Safety investigation released this week downplays Jones' allegations, as did the executive summary of an investigation conducted in October by an Army safety team. Jones said he was disappointed by the spin the safety team put on its findings but was no more than disappointed by the OSHA report, questioning whether the state inspectors had the expertise necessary to properly evaluate his claims.

The copy of the inspector general's report received by the Deseret News is dated Sept. 6, one week before Jones was fired by contractor EG&G, which said Jones' dismissal was based on a difference in management philosophy. It lists the dates for the inspector general's site inspection as Aug 15-18.

The Army refused to authenticate or disavow the 16-page report obtained by the Deseret News when asked to comment on it Thursday morning, "because the document itself is not subject to release under the Freedom of Information Act," said Army spokesman David Medaris.

"Two FOIA requests have been denied," Medaris said. "That doesn't mean it won't be released. A decision could be made to provide it to requesters."

Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a military watchdog organization, said he also has a copy of the report and the group plans to distribute it to the media.

"I think clearly the IG report confirms Steve Jones' allegations. I think it calls into question again the credibility of the Army on the prioritization of safety and the protection of the environment," Williams said.

One of Jones' major complaints is that information about flaws discovered in a pilot burn plant on Johnson Island in the Pacific were not passed along to designers of the Tooele plant. He also says one of the plant's three incinerators, designed to burn chemical-agent-contaminated trash, does not work and that no one knows how to make it work. He points to the inspector general's report to back that up.

An Army safety team, summoned to the plant for an investigation in September, rebutted the claim about Johnson Island, called JACADS. But the report states, "All lessons learned (in particular environmental), from JACADS operations and design have not been captured and/or relayed to the TOCDF (Tooele)," and goes on to list two particular problems the Johnson Island plant had that were later experienced at the Tooele plant.

Almost half of the nation's chemical weapons stockpile is stored at Tooele Army Depot.

The Army had hoped to begin destroying the chemical mortars, rockets, artillery shells and land mines in early spring but revealed during the investigations the projected startup date has slipped to September 1995.

Jones said the Army may not want to talk publicly about the plant's problems but knows of the deficiencies. He estimates a number of years will pass before the plant is ready to operate.