National Academy of Sciences
National Academy of Engineering
Institute of Medicine
National Research Council
Office of News and Public Information
National Academy of Engineering
Back | Home
News from the National Academies
Date: Oct. 15, 2003
Contacts: Patrice Pages, Media Relations Officer
Heather McDonald, Media Relations Assistant
Office of News and Public Information
202-334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

U.S. Army Should Expedite Destruction of Chemical Weapons at Anniston

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Army should pursue options to accelerate the disposal of rockets that contain gelled sarin -- a toxic chemical warfare agent -- currently stored at the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Alabama, says a new report from the National Academies' National Research Council. By safely speeding the disposal of these rockets -- which currently take about 30 times longer to destroy than rockets containing liquid nerve agents -- the Army can reduce risks to the public resulting from their extended storage, said the committee that wrote the report.

"Because there is a small chance that stored sarin- and VX-filled rockets might self-ignite at any time and release toxic agents and metals, these rockets need to be destroyed as soon as possible," said James F. Mathis, a retired engineer from Exxon Corp. in Houston, and chair of the committee. "The Army has developed a plan that would safely destroy all of the Anniston rockets, but the disposal rate for gelled rockets -- which were not part of the original plan -- would take almost an extra year."

In 1999 the Army discovered gelled rockets -- in which sarin that was originally liquid becomes gel, apparently as a result of a chemical reaction between sarin and aluminum from the inner lining of the rocket -- at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Utah. The Army later developed a technique that safely processed gelled rockets, but regulatory authorities limited the rate at which they could be destroyed to one rocket per hour. The Army considered this rate to be less than the capacity of the Anniston facility to safely destroy gelled rockets. By comparison, non-gelled rockets can be destroyed at a rate of 32 per hour.

The Army now believes that the gelled rockets could have been destroyed at Tooele safely and effectively at a rate as high as 9.2 per hour, but this rate has not been proved. The committee agrees with the Army's estimate and recommends that, in coordination with local and state governments and regulatory agencies, the Army should act promptly to demonstrate that the higher rate can be achieved safely at the Anniston facility.

The Army should assess the risks associated with emissions resulting from destruction of gelled rockets as rapidly as possible, and communicate the results to workers, the public, and elected officials, the committee said. The report urges the Army to monitor emissions more frequently than it is doing now.

In addition to increasing the disposal rate for gelled rockets, the Army is considering changing the order in which rockets and other munitions are processed. In its previous plan, which did not account for the presence of gelled rockets, sarin and VX rockets were to be processed first because they present the highest risks while stored. Munitions -- such as projectiles and mines -- containing either nerve agent would then be processed, followed by those containing the blister agent HD, also known as mustard agent. In its new plan, the Army envisions a different order for processing the sarin and VX weapons -- sarin rockets and munitions first, and then VX rockets and munitions. This schedule, according to the Army, would cut about 10 months from the original 7.2-year timeline for destroying the Anniston stockpile.

Because quicker disposal could reduce health risks to workers and the public, the Army should seek immediate approval from local regulatory authorities and implement the new plan without delay after approval is granted, the committee said. The new plan should be communicated clearly to stakeholders for input and feedback, the committee added.

"The Army's plans for weapons disposal at Anniston have also been delayed because of troubled relations among the various stakeholders," Mathis said. "It continues to be important that the Army improve communications with local communities, both to promote a better understanding of the risk issues and to address any valid public concerns."

The study was sponsored by the U.S. Army. The National Research Council is the principal operating agency of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, nonprofit institution that provides science advice under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

Copies of Assessment of Processing Gelled GB M55 Rockets at Anniston are available from the National Academies Press; tel. 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242 or on the Internet at http://www.nap.edu. The cost of the report is $18.00 (prepaid) plus shipping charges of $4.50 for the first copy and $.95 for each additional copy. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


[ This news release and report are available at http://national-academies.org ]


NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
Board on Army Science and Technology

Committee on Review of Army Planning for the Disposal of M55 Rockets
at the Anniston Chemical Weapons Disposal Facility

James F. Mathis1 (chair)
Vice President of Science and Technology
ExxonMobil Corp. (retired)
Houston

David H. Archer1
Adjunct Professor
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh

John J. Costolnick
Vice President for Engineering
ExxonMobil Chemical Co. (retired)
Houston

Elisabeth M. Drake1
Associate Director for New Energy Technology
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (retired)
Cambridge

Deborah L. Grubbe
Corporate Director for Safety and Health
E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co.
Wilmington, Del.

David A. Hoecke
President and CEO
Enercon Systems Inc.
Elyria, Ohio

David H. Johnson
Vice President and General Manager
ABS Consulting
Irvine, Calif.

Peter B. Lederman
Executive Director
Hazardous Substance Management Research Center
New Jersey Institute of Technology (retired)
Newark

John L. Margrave2
E.D. Butcher Professor of Chemistry
Rice University
Houston

Charles I. McGinnis
Major General
U.S. Army (retired), and
Consultant
Charlottesville, Va.

Frederick G. Pohland1
Edward R. Weidlein Chair of Environmental Engineering and Professor
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh

Jeffrey I. Steinfeld
Professor of Chemistry
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge

RESEARCH COUNCIL STAFF

Donald L. Siebenaler
Study Director

1 Member, National Academy of Engineering
2 Member, National Academy of Sciences