Shutdown attempts go up in smoke

  -It's like standing on the dock and watching the Titanic set out to sea," says Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, a Kentucky-based organization that monitors chemical weapons activity around the U.S. "Nobody wants to listen to us."

Williams is talking about the chemical weapons incineration plant in remote Tooele, Utah, (HCN, 9/16/96) and a federal judge's March 24 decision to allow weapons destruction there to continue. Judge Tena Campbell said the group's evidence "failed to show that they or the public would be irreparably harmed," and that the public interest favors continued operation of the incinerator.

"In Tooele County, the public is very, very supportive of the plant," says Carol Cisco of Utah's Environmental Quality Department. Cisco said her agency believes burning weapons in the highly monitored facility is much safer than letting them disintegrate on site.

The $250 million Tooele facility has been closed temporarily at least six times because of leaking floor cracks, nerve and mustard gas leaks and power failures. Despite what Williams describes as "wheelbarrows full of evidence" that has been gathered, in part, from former employees, Judge Campbell has twice denied the group's requests for a shutdown since the facility opened last August.

"Judge Campbell's threshold for evidence is extraordinary," says Williams, whose group will appeal her decision. "We might have to start wheeling in body bags to prove our point here."

* Emily Miller

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