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Chemical disposal plant to shut down next year

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 22 2006 12:00 a.m. MST

A research facility at Deseret Chemical Depot near Stockton, Tooele County, will close by October 2007, costing 130 jobs.

Meanwhile, the depot's drive to incinerate chemical weapons is not affected by the country's probable failure to meet its treaty obligations by destroying all such munitions by 2012.

Officials of the Army Chemical Material Agency, of which the depot is a part, informed workers on Nov. 14 that the Chemical Agent Munitions Disposal System will be closing by next October. Another 370 workers will remain at the depot.

Since the 1970s, the depot's CAMDS plant has been an important test and development facility for chemical agent destruction.

Deseret Chemical Depot is one of the bases identified in 2005 for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission. It is tentatively slated to close by 2012, although the money could be available to operate until 2016 if necessary, said spokeswoman Alaine Southworth.

"We're a BRAC base," Southworth said. "We're on the BRAC list and we have always know that CAMDS would close first." Meantime, CAMDS will continue "with a much, much smaller mission, segregating hazardous waste for us."

Not all CAMDS workers are expected to lose jobs, as some may be able to move into slots opening at the depot while others could bump people with lower seniority. Some are likely to retire.

Contractors from the Tennessee Valley Authority will help close CAMDS.

Chemical Weapons Working Group, based in Berea, Ky., distributed copies of a recent Army briefing on the status of the nationwide effort to destroy chemical weapons. In April, after officials realized they could not meet a 2007 deadline, they requested an extension to 2012.

But that deadline won't be met, according to the briefing by Jean Reed, special assistant in the Defense Department.

The document shows that plants at Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colo., and Blue Grass Army Depot, Ky., will complete operations by November 2020 and October 2023, respectively — long after the deadline.

"This is absolutely unacceptable," said Craig Williams, director of the working group, commenting by e-mail. Putting tens of thousands of people at risk by continuing to store the weapons is reprehensible, he added.

But while Pueblo and Blue Grass are delayed by the new timetable, apparently the Utah incinerator is not.

"This new schedule really doesn't affect Deseret Chemical Depot at all," Southworth said. "It only pertains to the two sites that have chosen neutralization to destroy their chemical weapons stockpile, and that's Blue Grass and Pueblo."

At Deseret Chemical Depot this August, workers began using the Army's $1 billion incinerator to destroy mustard agent. Operations slowed as they found some of the aging bulk containers had developed "heels" of coagulated agent over the decades.

Planners would like to drain mustard agent and send it to the liquid incinerator. But in some one-ton containers, the heels prevented draining so the material is being destroyed in the metal parts furnace. Workers are learning how long to leave the material in each section of the furnace, she said.

"Because of that, we had to ask for additional shakedown time." Southworth said. She added that the incinerator will comply with all permit requirements during the period.


E-mail: bau@desnews.com

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