OREGON JUDGE RULES FOR ARMY IN INCINERATION LAWSUIT
November 5, 2009
By Greg Mahall
- An Oregon judge denied a motion for summary judgment against the State of Oregon regarding Army chemical weapons destruction at the Umatilla
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Oct. 30, 2009) - An Oregon judge denied a motion for summary judgment against the State of Oregon regarding Army chemical weapons destruction at the Umatilla Chemical Depot, Hermiston, Ore.
Judge Michael H. Marcus, Judge for the Circuit Court of the State of Oregon, denied the petitioner's motion for summary judgment and entered a judgment in favor of the State of Oregon and its co-defendants in the case, including the U.S. Army.
The case was filed one year ago on Oct. 31, 2008.
Petitioners had challenged Oregon's Department of Environmental Quality on the approval of a Temporary Authorization Request for the trial burn of mustard agent containing elevated levels of mercury. Petitioners had questioned the use of incineration as the best available technology, claiming other, safer methods were readily available and should be used instead. Petitioners had also alleged that the state agency had allowed the Army to operate in violation of hazardous waste laws, without a Clean Air Act Permit, and without adequate characterization of wastes. Hearings began on Oct. 26, 2009, and, after three days of testimony and argument, Judge Marcus ruled against petitioners on all counts.
"We welcome Judge Marcus' ruling in this matter," said Conrad F. Whyne, Director, U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA). "Our use of incineration has a proven track record in terms of safety and agent destruction.
"We recently marked the occasion of our destroying two million munitions since the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) treaty entered into force. Our operational experience has grown considerably over time and when we discovered mercury in our munitions in Utah, we quickly advanced lessons learned across the program. That took place in Oregon as well as our other sites," Whyne said.
"When we discovered the mercury issue, we took additional steps to ensure that the mercury found in the agent is contained within our agent destruction system. We will continue our mission to destroy the agent and remain committed to safety-the safety of our workers, our communities and our environment."
Judge Marcus' ruling allows the Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility to continue destruction of mustard-agent filled bulk containers at the site. These bulk containers hold the last chemical agent in the Umatilla portion of the national stockpile.
"We are confident in our technology in terms of eliminating the stockpile and in doing so safely and effectively," said Col. Robert B. Billington, Project Manager for Chemical Stockpile Elimination at the CMA. "Scientifically, our technology continues to withstand these kinds of legal challenges and Judge Marcus' ruling once again shows that the best available technology is truly in place to ensure public safety and environmental protection.
"Now we can shift our focus out of the courtroom and back to the mission at hand-safe, total and complete elimination of the stockpile and the risk it poses to our communities."
As of Oct. 27 the Army had destroyed almost 66 percent of the original U.S. stockpile since entry into force of the CWC treaty. Umatilla Chemical Agent Disposal Facility workers have destroyed almost 41 percent of the Umatilla Chemical Depot's original stockpile of more than 3,700 tons of chemical agents. The site is currently in its last disposal campaign with the destruction of mustard agent.
The lawsuit is the sixth in an ongoing series of suits brought against operations at Umatilla. In each case, the suit was either dismissed or rulings were in the Army's favor.
Petitioners have 30 days to file a Notice of Appeal to the Court of Appeals of the State of Oregon.
The CMA remains committed to the safety of the public, its work force and the environment. The CMA's four remaining destruction sites are on pace to complete operations in time to meet the 2012 CWC deadline. The CMA continues to safely store chemical agent munitions near Richmond, Ky., and Pueblo, Colo. For more information about the CMA, visit http://www.cma.army.mil.
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