The same watchdog group that once successfully sued to postpone plans for a controversial germ lab at Utah's Dugway Proving Ground is now suing to shut down the military's entire chemical warfare program.
The Foundation on Economic Trends and its president, Jeremy Rifkin, filed suit Monday in the U.S. District Court for Washington, D.C., contending all military chemical programs should be stopped until they adhere to safety requirements and national environmental law.Several of the group's contentions are based on a new Army survey of chemical installations - including Tooele Army Depot - where the Army admitted some serious problems with its system to ensure the safety of chemical arms. Tooele stores more than 40 percent of the nation's chemical arsenal.
The suit is the fourth that the foundation has filed against the military in the past four years.
It has at least partially prevailed in the three other suits, which forced the Army to prepare an economic impact statement on its overall biologic research program and temporarily stopped plans for a Dugway germ lab until an environmental impact statement for it was written. Public uproar after the impact statement was released led the Army to tone down plans for the lab.
"The Department of Defense has shown a total disregard for public health and safety, " Rifkin said in announcing the suit. "An accidental release of highly toxic chemical agents could be catastrophic."
Of major interest to Utahns in the suit are charges stemming from a June 1988 Army survey of safety procedures at nine chemical facilities, including Tooele Army Depot.
The suit quoted the study itself saying, "The evaluation revealed that there is not an effective oversight program in place for chemical safety; that chemical safety has slipped through a crack between the overall safety program evaluation and the chemical surety inspections," neither of which look in detail at whether safety procedures are adequate.
The Army study, which was attached to the suit, also said the military had far too few soldiers trained in the procedures of chemical safety. It said that has resulted in safety officers being overworked and being unable to perform required inspections on the condition of stored weapons.
Most of those aging weapons are slated to be destroyed in the next few years using a process pioneered at Tooele. But the study said that moving the arms to destroy them increases the risk of accidents and that more properly trained officers will be needed to oversee the destruction.
But the study said, "The present system, which does not adequately support current requirements, cannot hope to provide the future number of chemically qualified safety professionals required."
The study also found: the procedure for reporting chemical mishaps is confusing; no central agency or formalized system exists for the collection and spreading of chemical safety information; and accident analysis is not conducted for chemical accidents.
Rifkin also contends in his suit that the dangerous nature of chemical arms should require the Department of Defense under the National Environmental Policy Act to prepare environmental impact statements for its research and other chemical programs.
The suit said more than 60 military and civilian labs are involved in chemical research. But it maintained that "factors such as proximity to residential areas or public facilities are not included in . . . (the) decision-making process on contracting out chemical warfare research."
The suit also said that many chemical facilities do not have emergency plans, lack protective procedures, are "extremely dirty," use improper waste disposal and have incomplete or missing safety records.
The suit says such alleged problems come as the military has been expanding its chemical operations in recent years. It said that in 1980, only $47.6 million was spent on the Chemical Warfare Research and Development Program. It had grown 600 percent by fiscal 1987, when $271.4 million was spent on it, the suit said.
Rifkin concluded, "The dramatic increase in the Pentagon's chemical warfare program has placed communities across the country at risk."