2000 CPEO Military List Archive

From: Lenny Siegel <lsiegel@cpeo.org>
Date: Tue, 21 Nov 2000 10:03:16 -0800 (PST)
Reply: cpeo-military
Subject: [CPEO-MEF] Colorado position on Sarin bomblet disposal
[The following letter was recently sent by Colorado Governor Bill Owens
to Defense Secretary William Cohen. - LS]

State of Colorado
Executive Chambers
136 State Capitol
Denver, Colorado 80203-1792

November 14, 200

The Honorable William S. Cohen
Secretary of Defense
The Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1155

Dear Mr. Secretary:

I am writing to express my deep concern over the U.S. Army's handling of
unexploded Sarin gas bomblets at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. I request
your assistance in addressing this very serious situation.

I am certain that you understand my concern, as the arsenal is located
eight miles from the center of the Denver metropolitan area and within
two-and-a-half miles of residential neighborhoods in Commerce City and

To provide you with some background information, on October 16, 2000,
workers at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal discovered the first bomblet,
which contained 1.3 pounds of Sarin nerve gas. The Colorado Department
of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) requested that the Army destroy
the Sarin in a manner that did not pose any risk of exposure to the
workers, nearby residents or the environment.

This request was not heeded. Therefore, CDPHE used its authority to
order the Army not to open detonate the Sarin bomblet, rather to
consider alternatives such as closed detonation.

The Army was resistant to exploring such options. When state officials
stressed that they could not approve open detonation unless it was
proven to be the safest available option, the Army offered to chemically
neutralize the bomblet within a "Donovan chamber" - one of the options
which state staff had identified and approved for a contained

The Donovan chamber was therefore moved to Colorado from Illinois.
However, soon after our October 28th meeting, the Army began backing
away from its agreement to use the Donovan, preferring use of a tent
structure for the neutralization.

Unfortunately, it has been difficult for state officials to obtain the
data necessary to verify how the tent structure would reach in case of
an accidental detonation during the process.

Recently two more bomblets were discovered in close proximity to the
first one. We have no way of knowing if other bomblets are nearby, and
the Army has said that these bomblets are potentially unstable if
disturbed. We can only speculate how the blast from open detonation of
the first one might have impacted the others that subsequently were
discovered nearby.

This brings me to my request for assistance. We need the highest level
of attention from the Pentagon to deal with the situation we are facing.
State officials have made it clear that open detonation is not an
option, but they are willing to consider others as long as the one
chosen has no impact to people and the environment.

It is disappointing to me that after an agreement was reached to dispose
of the initial bomblet by methods other than open detonation, the Army
has not produced a method that they can demonstrate is safe for the
nearby citizens. If the delays continue, I will instruct CDPHE to only
authorize an option of their choosing.

It is clear that the citizens of Colorado, as well as other communities
around the country, face a risk that more weapons of this type may be
discovered. It is important that the Army thoroughly examine the portion
of the Arsenal where the three bomblets have been found.

It is equally important that the Army have the proven and available
technology to deal with future discoveries of Sarin bomblets. Army
officials have argued that they are reluctant to use the Donovan chamber
because it has not been tested and certified for destruction of Sarin.

I understand the Army has been developing an Explosive Destruction
System (EDS) which may be close to being available. I urge you to order
the Army to act expeditiously to have both of these technologies
certified and available for use at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. We simply
cannot afford to have serious delays each time a chemical munition is

I appreciate your attention to this important matter. If you have any
questions please don't hesitate to contact me.


Bill Owens


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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