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Umatilla Chemical Weapons Incinerator on Hold

Army investigates vapors at Oregon site
Updated: 2:31 p.m. ET Aug. 18, 2004

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Army postponed plans Tuesday to destroy some Cold War-era chemical weapons at a depot because of safety concerns, a day after a judge refused an opposition group's request to halt the project.

The incineration at the Army's Umatilla Chemical Depot was scheduled to start Tuesday, but depot officials said in a press release that the incineration will happen sometime next week.

Army spokeswoman Mary Binder said concerns about filters arose during a last-minute test run. She said the filters worked well, but that depot management didn't anticipate the volume of chemical vapor released.

Fifteen M-55 rockets are scheduled to be the first of more than 220,000 munitions containing dangerous nerve and mustard agents to be destroyed. They will be punched, drained, chopped and finally burned in special furnaces.

On Monday, a group of residents sought to block the project, saying it was unsafe. Judge John A. Wittmayer said the request for an injunction would best be heard in the state Court of Appeals. The group said it hoped to raise the issue again at a related court hearing Friday.

The group, GASP, has argued that regulators granted the Army permission to begin incineration despite evidence it withheld information about serious flaws at an identical facility in Utah.

"I think this is just more evidence that this is a poor choice of technologies," said GASP leader Karyn Jones. "There have been ongoing problems with the ventilation system. We were assured they were taken care of but obviously they were not."

The Army also has a chemical weapons incinerator in Anniston, Ala. A fourth incinerator is scheduled to go online by early next spring in Pine Bluff, Ark.

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