Army auditors have concluded the obvious: Old and possibly leaking chemical weapons are dangerous and need to be dealt with.
Because of that conclusion, the Army is in the process of rewriting its rules regarding the cleanup of buried chemicals. It needs to proceed double-time.The above came to light through the efforts of Lee Davidson, the Deseret News' Washington correspondent. Davidson's report, which was published in Sunday's Deseret News, is disturbing in that it took the Army so long to recognize how dangerous the situation is surrounding chemical weapons.
Because of outdated policies that make it virtually impossible for old and possibly leaking chemical weapons to qualify for cleanup funds, a change is mandatory.
Auditors warned the Army it needed to make changes or face "the risk of incurring significant financial losses to lawsuits filed after a catastrophic incident."
Documents obtained by the Deseret News through a Freedom of Information Act request show that the "presence of chemical warfare material may actually be treated with less urgency than a site containing only industrial-type chemicals."
Since Utah has far more than its fair share of buried chemical arms - 48 of the 215 chemical weapons sites nationwide, a little more than 22 percent are in Utah - it is imperative that new cleanup policies reflect the seriousness of the matter.
The Army claims the problem is due to policies formulated when old chemical arms buried on military bases was considered safe disposal. The risk assessment based on those outdated policies makes it almost impossible for Utah bases or other bases to qualify for cleanup funding, even when those sites are near a civilian area.
But identifying the problem is just step one. Now it's time to provide a solution.
To the Army's credit, it is making an immediate change while it formulates new policies. The Army Corps of Engineers has a far better set of guidelines than the Army Safety Office for evaluating buried arms. Those guidelines are used for weapons stored outside current base boundaries. It recently found that 21 of 22 off-base sites were imminent threats worthy of cleanup money.
Based on the auditor's recommendation, the Army has instructed the Army Safety Office to adopt the Army Corps of Engineers policies until the Army changes its rules. The new rules need to reflect the realities of chemical weapons - both old and new.