Tooele sputters through first year

  -You don't start a $500 million piece of equipment and expect it to hum like a jewel the first time you turn it over. It's gonna have bugs in it," says Gary Griffith, a county commissioner in Tooele County, Utah. He's talking about the Army's chemical weapons incinerator 45 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, which began destroying bombs, with stops and starts, a year ago (HCN, 9/16/96).

"We're making good progress," Army spokesman Craig Campbell says. So far, EG&G; Defense Materials, the company that runs the plant, has destroyed nearly 12,000 rockets and 651 one-ton containers of nerve agent, roughly 4 percent of the Tooele stockpile. This, despite numerous shutdowns and the fact that the Army is still awaiting the state's approval to run the incinerator at full capacity.

Chip Ward, a critic from nearby Grantsville, says some "big red flags' went up during the first year. In June, hazardous waste supervisor Trina Allen quit, charging she had been discriminated against for pointing out safety and environmental problems. In September, the Labor Department ordered EG&G; to pay her $5,000.

Allen was the third manager in two years to make such allegations. Last month, a federal judge ruled that former safety manager Steve Jones was illegally fired after raising safety concerns, and ordered EG&G; to rehire him or pay him up to $1 million.

The slow start in Tooele has given other states time to look at alternatives, says Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, based in Kentucky. Weapons incineration projects in Colorado and Kentucky are on hold while government and citizen groups look at other options; Maryland and Indiana have decided to build chemical neutralization plants rather than incinerators. The Army is working to finish a permit for an incinerator in Oregon.

* Greg Hanscom

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