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Panel proposes change in arms disposal

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WASHINGTON — Efforts to destroy chemical munitions may work better if facilities shipped other wastes to commercial facilities and focused on destroying the weapons, the National Research Council said Thursday.

A committee of experts recommended that "secondary waste" such as contaminated gloves, metals, salts and other waste generated while getting rid of the weapons be taken care of "off site" as much as possible. The facilities should also take care of the secondary wastes during the same time they are destroying the weapons instead of storing the waste to be handled later.

"The Army's incinerators are destroying the United States' stockpiled chemical weapons, but the on-site capacity is just not enough for treating high volumes of secondary wastes such as carbon, wood dunnage or protective gear," said committee chairman Peter B. Lederman, retired executive director of the Hazardous Substance Management Research Center, Newark, N.J. "Destroying the secondary waste concurrently at off-site locations whenever appropriate will dramatically improve closure operations."

The Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility housed at the Deseret Chemical Depot, 22 miles south of Tooele, is one of four U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency facilities that currently destroys chemical agents.

The National Research Council committee that completed the report visited Tooele in September 2006 to gather information for the report on secondary waste. Committee members also visited the Clean Harbors Aragonite hazardous waste incineration facility in Aragonite, Utah.

Lederman, said it is not effective from a time and cost perspective for the facilities to treat both the weapons waste and the secondary waste. The committee found that moving the secondary waste to appropriate commercial facilities — those approved to handle the waste safely — would be best.

Lederman said it was also important not to wait until the end of a munitions cleanup to handle the secondary wastes but to handle them as the cleanup is in process.

"The nation's interest will be best met through the safe and expeditious disposal of the chemical weapons stockpile and its associated secondary wastes," according to a report summary. "Off-site disposal of secondary wastes from the chemical agent disposal process should be pursued (with appropriate safety, environmental, regulatory and stakeholder review)."

Lederman said the waste should be shipped to proper facilities, not just "willy nilly anywhere" at a briefing on the report at the National Academy of Sciences on Thursday.

Alaine Southworth in the Deseret Chemical Depot Public Affairs Office said the report was still being reviewed, but she doubted it would impact the depot much because it already ships its secondary waste to outside facilities and has been for some time.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com