Date: Sept. 9, 1997
Contacts: Molly Galvin, Media Relations Associate
April Sellers, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; Internet <news@nas.edu>

EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 5 P.M. EDT TUESDAY, SEPT. 9

Risk Assessments Accurate
For Tooele Chemical Weapons Storage and Disposal Facility

WASHINGTON -- Two recent assessments of the potential risks involved in storing and disposing of chemical weapons stockpiled at Tooele, Utah, are accurate and based on sound methodology, says a new report* from a committee of the National Research Council. Similar assessments should proceed at the seven other sites in the continental United States where chemical agents and munitions are stored.

The U.S. Army asked the Research Council to evaluate the methodologies and processes used for two assessments completed last year. The first, an assessment conducted by Science Applications International Corporation Inc. with guidance from an outside panel of experts, examined the risks posed to workers and the public by chemical stockpile storage, routine maintenance, and disposal by incineration. Risks posed by internal accidents during normal operations and external events, such as an earthquake, were examined. The second assessment, performed by the state of Utah as part of the environmental permitting process, examined health and environmental risks of incinerating the chemical agents under normal operating conditions and during short-term, unexpected interruptions in operations, such as an equipment malfunction.

According to the assessments, risks posed to the public during the seven-year chemical stockpile disposal process are substantially lower than the risks from continuing to store agents and munitions on site. Moreover, potential risks to public safety decline significantly after the first two years of operation, when the most dangerous weapons are destroyed. The potential health risks posed by inhaling emissions from incineration or from ingesting food or water contaminated by emissions are well within levels deemed acceptable by the Environmental Protection Agency.

"These risk assessments, which were done using the best available scientific practices, should ease concerns about the weapons disposal process," said committee chair Richard S. Magee, executive director, Center for Environmental Engineering and Science, New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark. "To ensure that the assessments remain as accurate as possible, the Army should update them whenever significant changes to systems or procedures are made."

Legislation and international agreements require the Army to destroy all U.S. chemical stockpiles by the year 2007. The Army is incinerating the stockpile at the facility in Tooele, where almost half of the nation's chemical agents and munitions are stored. Some members of the public have raised concerns about the possible dangers involved from an accidental release of the agents -- which can be highly toxic and lethal -- and about the environmental or health risks from incinerating them.

Improving Policies
The new Research Council report is part of an ongoing review of chemical storage and disposal at Tooele and of the Army's risk management policies and practices. Although the Army has made progress in improving its risk management program, the committee noted, additional measures are still needed. The Army should expand its draft guide on risk management -- which eventually will be used at all storage and disposal facilities -- to encourage the establishment of a "safety culture." As the committee pointed out in a previous report, not enough emphasis is being placed on ensuring that standard industrial safety practices are followed, such as wearing protective eye equipment, or that safety equipment is easily accessible. The guide should spell out responsibilities of workers and managers in providing a safe work environment. In addition, the Army should ensure that workers and emergency preparedness officials understand the results of the risk assessments.

The draft guide also describes the Army's plans to involve the public in decisions about significant changes to operational procedures, practices, or the schedule for disposing of the stockpiles. Reiterating earlier recommendations, the committee said that plans should include expanding this type of public involvement to other activities, such as monitoring and emergency preparedness programs. Efforts to involve the public also should be tracked and evaluated.

Assessing New Filter System
The committee also examined the Army's proposed methodology for adding a carbon filter to the pollution abatement system at the Tooele facility. The Army's plans for evaluating the filter systems are sound, but more information on potential risks, costs, and schedules must be obtained before a decision can be made, the committee said. In addition, public comment should be actively sought and considered. These recommendations follow a previous Research Council study, which found that a carbon filter may provide additional protection from an accidental chemical release during incineration -- although there could be adverse effects, such as a sudden release of contaminants because of equipment failure or exposing workers to harmful chemicals when the filters are periodically replaced.

The study was funded by the U.S. Army. The National Research Council is the principal operating arm of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering. It is a private, non-profit institution that provides independent advice on science and technology issues under a congressional charter. A committee roster follows.

*Copies of Risk Assessment and Management at Deseret Chemical and the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility are available from the National Academy Press at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. The cost of the report is $15.00 (prepaid). Reporters may obtain copies from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).

[This news release is available on the World Wide Web at <www.nas.edu/new/>.]