Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Shocking New BGAD Revelations

Shocking to some, that is. Nothing shocks me anymore about the Pentagon's toxic dumpsite in Madison County.

Turns out that the Blue Grass Army Depot went for two years without any means to detect nerve gas leaks in their rapidly decomposing nerve gas igloos, then fired a whistleblower who dared to say "hey, Chief, maybe we oughta fix 'em."

From Environment News Service:

WASHINGTON, DC, July 20, 2009 (ENS) - The U.S. Army has acknowleged that the nerve gas leak monitors at a Kentucky chemical weapons storage depot were not working for nearly two years, 2003-2005. The admission is contained in a U.S. Army Inspector General report dated February 2006 but released today.

Managers of chemical weapons storage at the Blue Grass Army Depot, located outside of Richmond, 30 miles south of Lexington, had rendered the detectors inoperative and the problem was remedied only after a whistleblower was forced to file a complaint, according to the Inspector General investigation posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, PEER...

PEER points out that the Army Inspector General's report confirms the chief concerns raised by whistleblower Donald Van Winkle, a chemical weapons monitoring operator at Blue Grass.

Van Winkle expressed his concern that leak detectors were improperly removed from inside the igloos holding highly lethal VX nerve gas.

As a result, from September 2003 to August 2005, after Van Winkle came forward, Blue Grass had no means, other than visual observation, to determine whether the odorless, colorless nerve gas was seeping from the rockets in which the agent is stored.

These changes were contrary to Army protocols and safety standards but only minor disciplinary action was taken against the responsible managers, Van Winkle said.

The Army Inspector General concluded that despite the lack of working leak detectors there was no evidence of worker or public exposure to escaped chemicals, citing the "historically low rate of leakers" in VX nerve gas rockets and warheads.

The Inspector General withheld the report from PEER Freedom of Information Act requests for more than three years due to "an ongoing U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command investigation." PEER has requested information on the status of that criminal investigation...

At the time this report was being finalized, whistleblower Van Winkle was removed from Blue Grass after being stripped of his certification to work with chemical weapons because, according to the base command, he showed "signs of behavior of a disgruntled employee and … lack of a positive attitude."

"In the Army, senior officials who screw up get slapped on the wrist but whistleblowers get banished," said Dinerstein, who is leading Van Winkle's legal effort to restore his chemical weapons program certification.

She notes that the Inspector General's report contains information at variance with sworn testimony from Blue Grass officials in the Van Winkle legal action. "Given how this case was handled, no wonder major problems go unreported," she said.

And that's not all. Apparently things still aren't been so peachy out there. The article goes on to note:

While the Army Inspector General did not substantiate related operational troubles at Blue Grass, in late 2007, the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection confirmed some of Van Winkle's other disclosures...

Violations verified by Kentucky DEP in 2007 include failure to test spills from rockets containing agent that are stored inside the igloos; improper storage practices which crush the shells of rockets and cause leaks; and failure to ensure employees are properly trained to prevent release of chemical warfare agents.

The state agency also warned 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.


Nicosia said...

If you haven't already, you should take a look at Maxey Flats just outside Morehead. BTW- I finally updated Roadside Weirdness!

JSH said...

Nicosia said...

Ah-ha! You are very thorough :)