STATE CHARGES ARMY CHEMICAL WEAPONS DEPOT WITH VIOLATIONS
STATE CHARGES ARMY CHEMICAL WEAPONS DEPOT WITH VIOLATIONS - Criminal Probe Widens to Spill Cover-Ups and Falsification of Monitoring Reports
Washington, DC - The Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has cited a U.S. Army chemical weapons facility for improper storage, testing and training, according to a state inspection report released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In addition, the state has referred evidence of activities "considered of a potentially criminal nature" to the criminal investigations arm of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as well as the state inspector general.
The October 31, 2007 Site Inspection Report details notices of violations issued against the Blue Grass Army Depot, located outside of Richmond, 30 miles south of Lexington. Blue Grass stores more than 500 tons of chemical warfare agents, including highly lethal nerve gas, inside storage units called igloos. The report reviews 40 disclosures made by base personnel. Violations verified by Kentucky DEP include -
- Not testing spills from rockets containing agent that are stored inside the igloos;
- Improper storage practices which crush the shells of rockets and cause leaks; and
- "[F]ailing to ensure employees are properly trained to prevent release of chemical warfare agents."
Blue Grass is already the subject of a federal criminal grand jury probe as well as whistleblower complaints that have been lodged by chemists, security agents and technicians. The Kentucky DEP has added to the scope of those other investigations by referring evidence it found that -
- Blue Grass staff may have been exposed to nerve agent but never notified or monitored;
- Managers "scrub" or falsify monitoring reports, and in some instances turn off monitoring equipment to mask problems; and
- The base routinely transfers or blackballs whistleblowers.
"This report appears to vindicate the whistleblowers even while leaving many very troubling questions unresolved," stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, whose organization is representing depot whistleblowers. "People who report problems do not stay long at Blue Grass."
Perhaps even more disturbing were some of the issues that were beyond the scope of Kentucky DEP's review and thus left unaddressed, including -
- The absence of procedures to tell whether chemical agents are in the waste water that is flushed from the igloos; and
- The air monitors inside the igloos were configured so as to be ineffective, an issue first raised by Donald Van Winkle more than two years ago. Van Winkle was then stripped of his clearance to work in the igloo farm.
"There is so much smoke rising from Blue Grass that it either means a big fire or one severe case of smoke inhalation," Ruch added. "Congress needs to step in and look at whether these chemical weapon depots are being managed competently."