2000 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Mon, 28 Feb 2000 13:39:41 -0800 (PST)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Sierra Army Depot pollution crosses state lines
The recent Reno Gazette series on the controversy over conventional
munitions demilitarization at the Sierra Army Depot, in Herlong,
California, points out a weakness in the nation's environmental laws.
States are ill equipped to regulate pollution when the contamination and
its victims cross state lines. While the federal government has specific
statutory responsibility for dealing with other types of interstate
crime, I don't know how well U.S. EPA is structured to intervene in
cross-border environmental problems.

The Sierra Army Depot, which I believe to be the nation's number one
site both for the open burning of solid rocket fuel and the open
detonation of conventional munitions, sits in Lassen County, California,
near the Nevada border and the Pyramid Lake Paiute reservation. The
nearest metropolitan area is Reno, Nevada.

The Depot has conducted open burning and open detonation for more than
three decades. Since  1980, the Army has operated under "interim
status." Now it is seeking a 10-year permit from the California
Department of Toxic Substances Control. In the permitting process,
Nevada, its local governments, and the Paiutes have no official role,
even though air emissions blow in their direction. (In fact, the Army is
reportedly required to burn and detonate when the winds are blowing
eastward, to protect the local California population.) 

This is clearly a situation in which the affected people are
underrepresented. US EPA should play an active role in regulating the

Furthermore, California regulators have for years contended that there
is no evidence of health problems from depot operations, but their
research apparently stopped at the state border. That is, they only
looked at the state's cancer registry, ignoring California residents
treated in the nearby Reno area. A Lassen County businessman, concerned
about illnesses in his family, started asking Reno hospitals for
zip-code data, and he found that "the Nevada hospital figures alone are
double the expected cancer rates for communities closest to Sierra Army
Depot." (See Frank X. Mullen, Jr., "Herlong Site Tops in Burning;
Neighbors Worry about Cancer," Reno Gazette, February 20, 2000.

The new data doesn't prove that the open demilitarization of munitions
is directly responsible for health problems in Lassen County, in Nevada,
or on Paiute lands. In fact, it may be impossible to ever prove a direct
association. More studies are likely. 

Meanwhile, the Army continues to burn or explode about 50 million pounds
of weapons each year at the Sierra Army Depot. It argues that
alternative disposal methods, designed to limit the release of heavy
metals, hydrocarbons, and other contaminants, are unnecessary and too
costly, and the state of California thus far seems willing to accept the
Army's position.


Lenny Siegel
Director, Center for Public Environmental Oversight
c/o PSC, 222B View St., Mountain View, CA 94041
Voice: 650/961-8918 or 650/969-1545
Fax: 650/968-1126

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