Despite the law banning transportation of chemical weapons, the Army is considering doing just that eventually — a move that could make the Tooele County chemical weapons incinerator the destination for arms now stored in other states.
The current policy requires that chemical arms be destroyed on-site at the various weapons stockpiles around the country. But construction has not begun on destruction facilities for some of the stockpiles.
Shipping VX, GB and mustard agent stockpiles into Utah for destruction to meet arms treaty deadlines would require an act of Congress to change the law. But without giving specifics, an Army spokeswoman on Wednesday confirmed the Department of Defense has told the Army to look into relocating chemical arms, among other options.
That news comes as another issue involving chemical weapon agents in Utah has arisen concerning a document on chemical weapons' effect on people of differing ages and ethnicity.
Activists are appealing the Army's refusal to give them copies of the document linked to Dugway Proving Ground, titled, "Chemical Warfare Agent Toxicity for Both Genders from Different Age and Ethnic Groups."
Edward H. Hammond III of Austin, Texas, a member of a group called the Bioweapons and Biodefense Freedom of Information Fund, said he requested a copy of the 1999 report but his request was denied in a letter last month from Brig. Gen. James R. Myles of the Army's Test and Evaluation Command.
Hammond said he knows the study report exists because it was on a list he received from the Army that included all so-called "D049 projects" at Dugway Proving Ground from 1998 through 2003. "All indications are that they did it there (Dugway)," he said of the study.
Hammond wonders why the report differentiates among ethnic groups. "There's no human being, whether they're black, pink, or green, that's going to survive a healthy blast of VX" nerve agent, he said.
Steve Erickson of Salt Lake City, director of the Citizens Education Project, said it's impossible to know exactly what the report involves.
"Whether they actually did any human experimentation, we don't know," he said. "We just don't have any idea. We would hope not. But it's still a head-scratcher," Erickson said.
Regarding the other issue — the possibility of transporting chemical weapons to Utah — Kentucky-based Chemical Weapons Working Group held a news conference Wednesday saying weapons may be transported due to potential budget cutbacks in the weapons destruction program and the possibility the program is behind schedule.
The Deseret Morning News contacted several Army offices seeking comments on the news conference.
Cheryl Irwin, a public affairs spokeswoman for the Department of Defense, based in the Pentagon, told the paper that current federal law prohibits the transportation of chemical weapons.
However, Irwin added, the DoD has directed the Army and the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives Program "to develop alternatives that achieve the extended CWC (the Chemical Weapons Convention) 100 percent destruction deadline of April 2012, and to also develop options for relocation along with other alternatives."
The idea of relocating chemical weapons is a worry to Jason Groenewold, director of the Salt Lake City-based Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah.
"Our concern lies with the assertion that the Army is considering moving chemical weapons," Groenewold said.
He wonders if this could prompt moving weapons from sites where destruction of weapons is behind schedule to places like Deseret Chemical Depot, near Stockton, Tooele County. There, America's largest nerve agent and mustard agent stockpile has been undergoing incineration since 1996.
"Utah has already had nearly half the stockpile of chemical weapons," Groenewold said. "The last thing we need to do is open the doors to even more dangerous weapons and waste."
Congress has prohibited shipment of chemical weapons, Groenewold said. "So to see the Army at this stage in the process of re-evaluating that fundamental promise made to our community is extremely concerning."
He said he hopes Utah's congressional delegation will stop this idea before it goes too far.