« Return to this article

Know the West

Incinerator unsafe, says former Tooele manager

  A former manager for the Army's chemical weapons incinerator in rural Tooele County says he was told he would lose his job if he talked about the plant's environmental problems.

During a January press conference, Gary E. Harris made public a list of over 100 questionable activities by the Army and its contractor, EG&G;, at the Tooele plant. He charges that the Army illegally obtained the plant's operating permit and that the state has overlooked unsafe operations.

"The environmental issues at the plant became my health problems," he says. Harris says he became severely ill from toxic exposure and yet was unable to recoup compensation from EG&G.;

Harris is the fourth top-level manager to raise environmental and safety concerns at the Tooele plant, the first of its kind in the United States (HCN, 9/16/96). The incinerator burns chemical agents such as nerve gas that have been in storage since the early 1980s.

Shortly after Harris went public with his charges, Oregon Rep. Peter DeFazio called for the immediate shutdown of a chemical weapons incinerator in Umatilla, Ore., one of several plants modeled after the one at Tooele.

Army spokesman Gary Mahall says he's confident that the "sensational charges' will be proven false. Because incineration is a touchy issue, adds Dave Jackson, a project manager at Tooele, "my belief is that we will be under litigation forever."

Critics hope the evidence Harris has will stop incinerators planned for other states. If this case doesn't prod the Army to rethink incineration, says Jason Groenewald of Salt Lake City-based Families Against Incinerator Risk, "it's going to take a dead body."

*Catherine Lutz