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The U.S. Army is considering a plan to ship more chemical weapons, such as nerve agent and mustard gas, to Utah, to be destroyed here. It's an idea watchdog groups and state regulators appear ready to fight.
The army says the volume of chemical weapons that remains in this country is too much for the army to destroy and meet a deadline of the year 2017. So, with much of Utah's stockpile of weapons already destroyed, the Pentagon is proposing sending more weapons here.
Just 54 percent of the nation's stockpile of chemical weapons has been destroyed, and the army faces deadlines from both international treaties and Congress to have all of the weapons destroyed by 2017. But the Pentagon says that won't happen unless the chemical weapons are transferred to other locations for disposal, including Utah's Deseret Chemical Depot.
Christopher Thomas, Policy Director for the Healthy Environmental Alliance of Utah (H.E.A.L.), said, "The army should not be playing musical chairs with the nation's chemical stockpile. It will present a risk to communities through which the weapons would have to travel, and it will not be acceptable to Utahns, who already have the distinction of having the largest chemical weapons stockpile in the nation."
The army is destroying chemical weapons in other states, including: Colorado, Kentucky, Alabama, Oregon and Arkansas. But some of those states are far behind schedule in destroying the weapons.
Dennis Downs, with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, said, "Had there not been certain groups that opposed construction of disposal facilities in some of these other states, they would have been done now with the destruction of those weapons. Utah doesn't want to have those chemical weapons shipped from other storage facilities here."
State environmental officials say Utah was promised long ago that weapons stored outside the state would not be brought here to the incinerator. And with serious concerns for public safety, they will fight the army's plan to bring even more dangerous munitions here.
"We've gotten rid of all of the nerve agent now that was stored here, and all that is left is the mustard agent, and we've got a good percentage of that completed, so we're on our way to being completed," Downs said.
In fact, public hearings are planned for later this month to discuss the process of closing and dismantling the chemical agent disposal facility in Tooele County. It's unclear if this new Pentagon plan could put that on hold.