No amount of scientific data is going to make Grantsville residents feel better about the shake, rattle and roll that rocks their existence, not to mention their houses.
The handful of residents who attended a Tooele Army Depot meeting Wednesday expressed frustration with the program to destroy waste munitions at the depot's North Area - an operation that could continue for years, despite previous promises it would be moved 20 miles away to the depot's South Area.The daily explosion of mines, bombs and projectiles in dirt-covered pits seven miles from Grantsville has ended for the year. But the U.S. Army likely will resume the program at the North Area next March unless it gets state approval to detonate the weapons at the South Area, now known as the Deseret Chemical Depot. The state Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste is studying whether to permit detonations there once the depot's chemical weapons incinerator begins operation.
In the meantime, University of Utah scientists are studying the seismic and acoustic impact of the open detonation/open burning program on Grantsville. Residents maintain the blasts are breaking windows, knocking items off shelves and causing structural damage to their homes.
Preliminary results of the tests were released Wednesday. Russ Price, director of the university's Center for Environmental Technologies, told residents researchers are "having a hard time seeing trends" in the data and "what we've seen so far is fairly inconclusive."
Grantsville resident Chip Ward joked that if a duck walked into the room, scientists wouldn't be able to say definitively that it was in fact a duck without further study.
Price said researchers do know ground shaking occurs in Grants-ville about 18 seconds after each detonation. A sound wave then rolls into town about 30 seconds after the seismic wave. In some cases, he said, larger detonations of 1,000 pounds produced a smaller acoustic wave than detonations of 800 pounds. He said the acoustic waves appear to be more damaging than seismic waves.
Instruments recorded what appeared to be detonations in between the planned explosions. Those blasts apparently originated from someplace other than the depot's range, but Price said researchers haven't discovered the source.
After reviewing the data, the university group will make recommendations about what the Army can do to keep the sound and ground waves to a minimum.
If detonations continue in the North Area, the Army has said each individual explosion will be smaller than in previous years. None will exceed 750 pounds, half the previous limit. But that means more explosions could be necessary to get rid of the 2,840 tons of waste munitions the depot is scheduled to destroy in 1997. To achieve that goal, the depot wants to build 10 more detonation pits, expanding the number of pits in the North Area from nine to 19.
About 25 people attended Wednesday's meeting, but most were depot, state and university officials or journalists.
Two members of the small contingent of Grantsville residents needed oxygen tanks to assist their breathing. That apparatus might not be needed, resident Janet Cook suggested, if not for the clouds of smoke that drift into Grantsville after detonations.
"I've watched the plume come right over my house," Cook said. "I hate fallout over my location and it just makes me good and sick about the whole setup."
The Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste will soon begin a health risk assessment of the North Area. A similar study of health impacts from detonations in the South Area should be completed by the end of this year.
"We're in a very bad posture here as citizens. It's like we don't matter," Grantsville's Lois Wilder told depot officials. "Now we're back to square one. We're back to (detonating at) the North Area and we agreed that was not a viable option. You can't help but be frustrated and upset."