Utah chemical weapons incinerator to be demolished

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RUSH VALLEY, Tooele County — Demolition is about to begin on a huge Army incinerator that was built to destroy our nation's stockpile of nerve agents and other weapons of mass destruction.

For many years the incinerator was at the heart of one of Utah's biggest controversies. The incinerator plant will quietly come to an end of its use after its mission was accomplished with all chemical weapons destroyed at a cost of $3 billion.

"I think everybody should be glad that it's gone. It was probably a mistake to produce all that stuff in the first place," said Chip Ward, founder of HEAL Utah.

The Deseret Chemical Depot used to be the home for almost 50 percent of the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons, mainly housing rockets and artillery shells loaded with deadly mustard and nerve agent. These weapons were so nasty that most nations of the world signed a treaty to destroy all of them.

The Army built the incinerator 20 years ago, and they burned the last deadly chemicals a year ago. Now the site has been cleaned and the plant will be torn down.

"They've had to go through the entire facility and verify there is no residual contamination above a level that would be safe," said Tom Ball, Utah Department of Environmental Quality.

However, a few years ago there was a storm of controversy, court battles, press conferences and leaked documents.

"And we ushered out a parade of whistleblowers," Ward said.

Ward and HEAL Utah battled the Army over safety issues, sometimes with help from whistle-blowing officials at the plant. He said, "They all told stories of unsafe conditions, leaks, coverups."

My experience is that polluters do not clean up and unsafe projects do not become safe unless citizens show up, embrace their roles and these projects have critics.

–Chip Ward, founder of HEAL Utah

The turmoil settled down a few years ago; the incinerator just kept on burning.

"The contractors, the people who worked there were very conscientious. They tried to do the best job that they could do," Ball said. "So I would think, in my opinion, (it's a) job well done."

But Ward believes critics did their job too, pushing to help create a "safety culture" that made the plant safer than it was at the beginning.

"My experience is that polluters do not clean up and unsafe projects do not become safe unless citizens show up, embrace their roles and these projects have critics," Ward said.

After the incinerator is torn down over the next few months, the property will still be controlled by the Army. Most of the storage bunkers will remain, suitable for storing conventional weapons without chemical agents.

The demolition will begin Jan. 9.


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John Hollenhorst


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