CALIFORNIA

After more than four decades, Army officials have halted the open-pit burning and blasting of obsolete munitions and rocket motors at Sierra Army Depot near Herlong.

The depot's open-air weapons destruction was challenged in federal court early last year by a coalition of Indian tribes, environmental groups and private citizens (HCN, 8/13/01: Depot neighbors are on a short fuse). Last September, the Army halted blasting, but the program didn't officially end until plaintiffs and the Army reached a settlement in May.

The agreement allows for burning and blasting at Sierra only in cases of "national security" or to address an "emergency situation."

"Just what 'national security' means, no one knows," says lawsuit plaintiff Kim Ramos.

Activist Jack Pastor, whose organization Residents Against Munitions was a vocal critic of the program, says he's pleased that blasting is over. But, he adds, "this is just the first phase." Pastor is now calling for a full study of the human health impacts he suspects have occurred because of the weapons disposal program.

Army officials say they still plan to use open-pit burning and blasting as a disposal method - just not at Sierra. Munitions slated for disposal will be moved to installations in Hawthorne, Nev.; Tooele, Utah (HCN, 1/31/00: Incinerator unsafe, says former Tooele manager); Oklahoma and Indiana. Pastor is now aiding Oklahoma activists in their fight to halt the blasting there.

While the Army initially hinted that environmentally friendlier "Resource Recovery and Recycling" (R3) bomb-destruction technologies might replace open-pit burning at the depot, it now plans to test R3 technology only in Nevada and Oklahoma.

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