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