Utah: Weapons Incinerator Shuts Down After Gas Leak

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May 10, 2000 - 09:15 PM

Chemical Weapons Incinerator Shuts Down After Gas Leak The Associated Press

TOOELE, Utah (AP) - A tiny amount of deadly nerve gas leaked from an Army chemical weapons incinerator, but the quantity was not harmful to residents, plant operators said Wednesday. The incinerator at the Tooele Chemical Agent Facility was shut down so a team of experts could investigate the source of the leak, which plant operators said was detected Monday.

The leak exceeded state environmental rules, but plant operators said it was not harmful to residents or the environment.

Phone calls made to the plant's offices Wednesday were not answered. It could not be confirmed what type of lethal gas leaked.

The incinerator, 50 miles west of Salt Lake City, is where the Army is destroying part of its inventory of obsolete chemical weapons. The plant began operating in 1996 and is expected to finish destroying the weapons after 2004.

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 11, 2000


Jumpin' Geehosifat! If this isn't the type of accident to scare the livin' beejeepers out of you, I don't know what is.

-- Uncle Fred (dogboy45@bigfoot.com), May 11, 2000.

GB vapor alarms Utah by Russ Henderson 05-11-2000

The first nerve agent release from the stack of the only chemical weapons incinerator in the continental U.S. happened Monday night.

Army officials say theyre working to make sure it is the last.

At 11:26 p.m. Monday, an alarm sounded at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Tooele, Utah. Monitors at the top of the stack of the facilitys pollution control system had detected a vapor release of GB, the nerve-agent type the facility has been burning since it went into chemical destruction operations in 1996.

The Tooele incinerator is the model that all of the chemical agent destruction facilities in the U.S. are being built on  including the incinerator being built here at Anniston Army Depot.

Army officials said no worker or member of the public was injured as a result of the agent release. No workers were downwind of the release, said Mike Rowe, president and general manager of EG&G Defense Materials, the primary Army contractor at the Tooele incinerator, at a press conference in Tooele Wednesday.

When alarms sounded, workers at the facility donned the protective masks theyre required to wear on their belts in case of just such an event, Maggio said. No blood tests have been performed to determine if anyone was exposed to agent because there is no cause to believe anyone was exposed, she said.

Just under 18 milligrams of the nerve agent were released  three and a half times the amount allowed by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality permitting limit, said Cheryl Maggio, acting plant manager at the Tooele incinerator.

It was enough agent to shut down the incinerator until an investigation is done by several offices of the Army as well as the Centers for Disease Control, Maggio said.

The first U.S. chemical agent incinerator, built on Johnston Island in the Pacific Ocean, has had four similar agent releases. This is the first release for the Tooele facility.

The scenario run by the Deseret Chemical Depots experts had the agent probably escaping the stack and going three feet before dissipating beyond detectable levels, Maggio said. Air monitors downwind of the stack and at the boundary of the facility detected no agent, she said.

The Tooele Department of Environmental Managements worst-case scenario had the agent going a bit farther  20 feet from the stack, said Myron Lee, spokesman for the department. Still not far enough to call it a major event, but distressing nonetheless, he said.

In addition, no one at the Tooele facility notified Tooele County that the agent release had happened until 3 a.m., Lee said. Lee said incinerator officials claim it was a combination of disbelief on the part of people in the facilitys emergency operations center and computer scenarios that showed the release wasnt a significant threat that kept them from calling for so long.

The operating procedure is to inform Tooele County within minutes of a problem at the facility, Lee said. Instead, incinerator workers looked at their data and equipment to figure out what happened for more than three hours before they called.

Weve reprimanded them, and theyve said theyll work on it, Lee said.

The cause of the agent release is still unknown, Maggio said. It is particularly strange because the last agent-filled munitions had been burned in the facilitys furnaces at about 10 p.m. It isnt known why it was almost an hour and a half before the agent was detected at the top of the stack, she said.

Also, 30 minutes before the alarm sounded, the exhaust gas flow meter, which is part of the pollution filtration system, signaled that it wasnt working, she said. Maggio wouldnt say whether the meters failure had anything to do with the agent release.

Were taking this investigation very seriously, Maggio said. We maintain this is a safe facility. We will not process munitions until weve completed this investigation.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 12, 2000.

Saturday, May 13, 2000

Nerve-gas leak makes state official nervous

Division chief wants to know cause of incident By Joe Bauman Deseret News staff writer

Utah's chief hazardous waste regulator is concerned that nerve gas leaked from the Tooele county chemical weapons incinerator Monday. "We are concerned about it because it's something that was not designed to happen," said Dennis R. Downs, director of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous waste. "Anytime something like that occurs we need to figure out what was the cause." The amount of GB (sarin) nerve agent released from the exhaust stack was so minuscule that Downs is not worried about any health effects from the incident. "However, we're concerned that some agent got into the stack, and it shouldn't have been," he added. The incinerator will remain shut down until experts are able to piece together what happened. "We didn't have to order them to shut down. They were smart enough to know that was the prudent thing to do," he added. Downs said he cannot estimate how long it will take to remedy the problem and get the incinerator running again. Before it can resume operations, it will need clearance from the Centers for Disease Control, Army safety officials and state regulators. Only 18 milligrams of GB nerve gas, also called sarin, escaped during the incident, which happened at 11:26 p.m. Monday. The amount was estimated based on levels in sampling tubes in the smokestack. The sarin dissipated quickly into the air above Deseret Chemical Depot near Stockton, Tooele County. Officials insisted no workers were exposed and that nobody in the neighborhood was at risk. But incinerator managers shut down the plant. Marty Gray, one of the top officials in Downs' department, was at the incinerator Friday working on the question of what went wrong. Jason Groenewold, director of Families Against Incinerator Risk, Salt Lake City, wondered how the release could have happened three hours after GB rockets were being deactivated, as reported. "If they weren't feeding any agent into the furnace, how did these alarms go off in the first place?" he asked. Ordinarily, the incinerator's furnace is hot enough to destroy any nerve gas vapor. Downs said the furnace was burning at the time of the alarms. "Nobody is really sure where the agent came from," Downs said. He added that quite a few places in the incinerator are contaminated with nerve agent and will have to be decontaminated in the future. "Whether or not agent migrated from those areas and got through the furnace system and into the stack, we don't know at this time." The Army has begun assembling a team of inspectors in hopes of discovering the cause of the incident, which is the first time officials have acknowledged that deadly nerve agent escaped into the atmosphere from the $1 billion plant. Ray Clark, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for installations and the environment, said public health, safety and the maintenance of public confidence are of paramount concern to the Army. Heading the team of inspectors is Col. Kevin Connors, deputy director of safety for the Army. Team members include specialists from the safety and security staff of Deseret Chemical Depot, the Army's Nuclear and Chemical Agency, the Army's Technical Center for Explosives Safety and the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization. "This team will conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause of this event and they will outline any corrective actions needed," Clark said in a written statement.


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 13, 2000.

Gas leaked from incinerator twice Thursday, May 18, 2000

The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY -- A nerve gas leak at a chemical weapons incinerator in Tooele county was actually released twice.

On the night of May 8, automatic air monitors detected what plant officials say was the first-ever leak of nerve agent from the smokestack at the Deseret Chemical Depot near Stockton. The incinerator is destroying the government's largest stockpile of chemical weapons.

The release triggered an automatic shutdown.

But state officials told the Deseret News and the watchdog Chemical Weapons Working Group that managers tried to fire up an afterburner about an hour later. That caused more agent to leak into the atmosphere sometime between 12:29 a.m. and 1:15 a.m. on May 9.

The afterburner did not start up, and the plant shut down again. It remains out of commission while officials try to find out what went wrong.

"Why did the Army attempt to relight the afterburner before they figured out what had caused the original leak?" asked Jason Groenewold, director of the anti- incinerator group Families Against Incinerator Risk. "It makes you wonder if they were attempting to hide the first release."

The afterburner didn't restart until the next morning and the only time the stack violated state standards was during the first release, said Michael J. Rowe, president and general manager of plant operator EG&G DefenseMaterials Inc. The company, based in Tooele, is a wholly owned subsidiary of EG&G Technical Services, Gaithersburg, Md.

"The same instrument that malfunctioned the first time malfunctioned again," said Rowe. The instrument was an exhaust gas flow meter, he said.

Rowe said that it's often a good idea to light the afterburner, which can burn off residual nerve agent in the area -- in the right circumstances.

But in this case, the malfunctioning gas flow meter may have caused too much air to whoosh through, Rowe said.

And if managers knew a large pool of nerve agent was causing the gas to leak outside, there is some question why they then decided to fire up the afterburner, which created a draft and caused more material to leak out.

"That's something we're looking into," said Marty Gray, manager of the Chemical Demilitarization Section of the Utah Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste. Gray said that the plant's permit requires it to shut down if agent is detected in the smokestack.

"We've got just a ton of data that we're going through," Gray said.

Incinerator opponents cited the confusion, contradictions and false starts as indications the plant is not safe.

"The Army's unwillingness to be honest reflects a callous disregard for the public's right to be informed," said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group, an umbrella organization of incinerator foes, based in Berea, Ky. "This is just the latest situation where the army has blatantly contradicted their commitment to public safety and protection."

http://www1.standard.net/stories/local/05- 2000/FTP0009@local@18leak@Ogden.asp

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), May 19, 2000.

Operator Blamed For Nerve Gas The release of nerve gas last month at the Tooele Chemical Weapons Incinerator was the result of human error. An internal report says that an operator incorrectly adjusted settings which led to the release. No gas got into the atmosphere, but it did cause a shutdown of the plant. Officials say a new control system will eliminate the problem of accidental releases.

Article received on Tuesday, June 20 2000 at 09:22 EDT

http://home.digitalcity.com/saltlakecity/news/article.dci? provider=metronetworks&category=News&article=505861

-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 20, 2000.

Run of Errors Led to Leak Of Nerve Gas Sunday, June 25, 2000 BY GLEN WARCHOL THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE

Two independent probes of the first-ever nerve gas leak at the Army's incinerator near Tooele chronicle a troubling series of mishaps during the incident and call for procedural and engineering changes at the facility. The reports, released last week by Utah's Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, found the small amount of nerve agent released May 8 at the Tooele Chemical Weapons Disposal Facility was no threat to workers, the community or the environment.

But the investigations found a combination of chronic mechanical problems, miscommunication, failure to follow emergency procedures and bad decision-making created the nine-hour incident in which 20 to 35 milligrams of GB nerve agent was released into the atmosphere. That amount, less than a drop, would be fatal only if applied directly to a tear duct or broken skin. GB basically is an insecticide powerful enough to kill unprotected humans in a matter of seconds, but prolonged exposure to air and sunlight renders it harmless. Two more investigations into the leak, by the Army and EG&G, the contractor that operates the incinerator, have yet to be made public. Mike Rowe, EG&G president and general manager, told The Salt Lake Tribune that EG&G's investigation found the primary problem to have been the operator sending excessive air draft into the incinerator, which resulted in some agent getting through without being burned. He says the Army's findings probably will support EG&G's. Rowe says EG&G is engineering a fix that will not allow the problem to recur. "This system needs to be engineered to be tolerant of operator error," he says. The company also is considering adding an isolation valve, a sophisticated damper, to the system, which would cut it off from the stack in any emergency, Rowe says. Critics of the incinerator, including Jason Groenewold of Families Against Incinerator Risk, say the release was inevitable considering inherent problems with the incineration technology. "It's just fortunate it wasn't worse," Groenewold says. Although incineration is a straightforward process of time and temperature, the safe destruction of deadly chemical weapons such as GB, CS (another nerve agent) and mustard agents, is complex. The May 8 incident began during destruction of fence-post-sized rockets that had contained GB agent. Before entering the incinerator, a guillotinelike machine chops the rockets into pieces. The fragments fall through a set of air-tight gates into the incinerator. EG&G acknowledges chronic problems with projectile debris blocking the gates. But Rowe characterizes it as a routine maintenance issue.

"It's a false expectation to say a machine will never need maintenance," he says. At about 4 p.m. May 8, the lower gate would not close and a crew entered to clear it. Five hours later, the workers finished and placed about a pound of GB-contaminated waste on top of the gate, assuming it would be burned when the incinerator was restarted. For some reason, the control room was not aware of the GB-saturated debris. According to the CDC report, "That waste is believed to be the major source of agent involved in the release." The operator had difficulty relighting the incinerator, and internal temperatures, draft rate and pressures fluctuated wildly. The operator was inexperienced, according to the state and CDC report. The supervisor on duty -- unaware of the contaminated waste in the system -- decided it was a good opportunity for the operator to get some on-the-job training in bringing the system back on line. "The operator was struggling to maintain control of the incinerator," says state DEQ regional manager Scott Anderson. "The control room supervisor made a decision to allow the operator to stay there to see if he could bring the system under control." At that point, the excessive draft problem that Rowe sees as the primary issue occurred. The operator ran the draft control at too high a rate, Rowe says, and that did not allow the residual heat in the incinerator to destroy the agent. At about 11:30 p.m. the first of a series of alarms went off, indicating the agent had entered the stack. But because the facility suffers from regular "false positive" alarms, the operators ignored the hyper-sensitive alarm sensors.

According to the CDC report, "The control room supervisors responded to the alarm, but because they believed the [incinerator] was free of agent, they allowed the recovery efforts to continue. . . . [P]ersonnel should not have discounted this information." At the same time, the contingency procedure calls for the plant's response team to classify an agent release as "probable" or "not probable." The team determined that a release was probable. But, says the CDC, "This information apparently was discounted or misunderstood by the control room" and they followed the procedures for "agent not probable." "The site should have stayed masked [workers wearing protection] for a longer period of time," says the DEQ's Anderson. "They should have called for downwind monitoring." When the alarms continued, the supervisor finally took over and "bottled up" (shut down and isolated) the system. Although the Deseret Chemical Depot is required to immediately notify Tooele County Emergency Services of such an event, managers delayed four hours in warning the county. The incinerator has been shut down since the incident. The CDC has issued recommendations to improve safety at the incinerator. The state DEQ has gone further, sending the Army a "list of actions that must be performed" before the facility can be operated again. "We've put them on notice," Anderson says. "These are the issues that need to be taken care of." The actions include: -- Better training for operators, especially in handling "upset" conditions. The CDC recommends "only the most highly qualified personnel available should be controlling plant operations. When any agent-related alarm has been activated, any type of on-the-job training is inappropriate." -- Maintenance procedures should be changed to ensure that workers inside the facility alert the control room that contaminated waste is in the system. -- The contingency plan for "agent detected in the stack" needs to be strictly followed. -- EG&G should work to eliminate "the source of false stack alarms" so that alarms are more likely to be heeded. -- Both agencies called for changes in procedures for analyzing agent detectors. (The collection tubes, which are used to confirm a release, were not checked until 12 hours after the release.) -- The Emergency Operation Center should follow its agreement to notify Tooele County "at the earliest possible opportunity, even if an event is only suspected." And although EG&G's Rowe maintains the problems with debris blocking the feed chutes is not directly related to the release, the CDC and DEQ want the issue examined. "The problem started with a jam in the chute. . . . We want them to look at the design of those feed chutes," the DEQ's Anderson says. "We are requiring them to submit a design review." Until the changes are agreed upon and instituted, Anderson and Rowe say, the plant will remain shut down. "This needs to take as long as it needs to take," Anderson says. "It won't be a matter of days or a matter of months. It probably will be a matter of weeks."


-- Martin Thompson (mthom1927@aol.com), June 25, 2000.

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