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Tooele disposal site is success

For nearly a decade, EG&G Defense Materials Inc. has safely and successfully operated the U.S. Army's Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility (TOCDF) at Deseret Chemical Depot. Our proud workforce has destroyed more than half of what began as the nation's single-largest stockpile of aging, obsolete and deteriorating chemical weapons. To date, we have destroyed more than 1 million individual chemical munitions and nearly 15 million pounds of nerve agent, an achievement which is estimated to have reduced the threat to the community from stored chemical weapons by 99 percent. While this has not been easy, we have been successful in resolving challenges that have confronted us over the years. These munitions are up to a half-century old, and we are progressively eliminating them while providing maximum protection to the public, our workers and our precious Utah environment.

Now, EG&G is preparing to eliminate DCD's last major stockpile of munitions, some 125,000 weapons containing nearly 12.5 million pounds of mustard blister agents. These are among the oldest munitions in storage, and our team's planning and execution will ensure we safely and successfully complete our mission.

Although the U.S. Army never has used chemical weapons in combat, it is well known that human health effects of mustard exposure are not pleasant. Contact with skin or other human tissues will cause severe blistering, and depending on severity of dose and availability of treatment, exposure can be fatal. Mustard also is carcinogenic, meaning exposure is known to cause cancer.

Some of the munitions at DCD also contain mercury compounds. How did mercury get into the mustard? Nobody seems to know, but one theory is, some bulk containers were not clean when they were filled with agent. Chemical reactions inside the containers likely produced the mercury compounds. Working with our U.S. Army partners, EG&G has a strategy for resolving all mercury challenges, using scientifically accepted methods and technology leading to safe, environmentally protective disposal.

Starting this spring, EG&G will be working jointly with the Army's civilian workers in DCD's "Area 10" chemical weapons storage location conducting comprehensive sampling of the contents of the bulk containers. We expect that most will have low or no mercury concentrations, enabling their processing through TOCDF furnaces equipped with existing pollution abatement systems.

By focusing initial processing operations on the no/low mercury containers, we expect to boost national chemical weapons disposal operations to assist the United States in meeting a key commitment under the international Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty, to have destroyed 45 percent of the total national chemical-agent stockpile by December 2007.

For bulk containers with any higher mercury concentrations, we expect to add special mercury-capturing filters to our plant pollution abatement systems.

EG&G is grateful to have the opportunity over the years to progressively and safely eliminate the stockpile of chemical weapons at DCD. Your safety is our first priority, and it will continue to be until we complete our mission and safely and environmentally protectively close the TOCDF.

Gary McCloskey is the vice president and general manager, EG&G Defense Materials Inc. — operator of the U.S. Army's Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.