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Originally published Monday, March 1, 2010 at 12:16 PM

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Study: No big impact from exploding mustard shells

A draft environmental assessment predicts no significant impacts from a new plan to destroy thousands of mustard weapons at the Army's Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado.

Associated Press Writer

DENVER —

A draft environmental assessment predicts no significant impacts from a new plan to destroy thousands of mustard weapons at the Army's Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado.

Under the proposal, as many as 125,000 shells would be exploded inside specially made closed chambers.

The Army wants to use that method to speed up destruction of the 780,000 shells at the depot, which contain 2,600 tons of mustard agent.

Mustard can maim or even kill, causing blisters on skin, scars on the eyes and inflammation in airways. It can also cause cancer.

The plan, made public last year, marks a major change in the Army's original plan to destroy the vast majority of the shells with a combination of water and bacteria in a plant now under construction.

Under the new plan, two separate, smaller facilities would use explosives to start destroying leaking or damaged shells as well as tens of thousands of intact shells before the larger plant is completed.

The environmental assessment said one of the smaller facilities would keep operating after the main plant is up and running.

The military has also proposed using the explosives technique on some chemical weapons at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Richmond, Ky., but it was not covered by the study on Pueblo.

The 77-page draft environmental assessment reviews possible impacts of the new plan on human health and safety, minority and low-income populations, air, land, water and other areas.

The public has 60 days to comment on the draft released Friday.

The assessment was prepared by Jon A. Ware, an environmental scientist for the Army.

Irene Kornelly, chairwoman of a citizens advisory panel for the Pueblo depot, said the assessment was short on specifics.

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"I'll give you an example: They say, 'Well, we're going to have enough water to do the process' ... but they don't tell us how much water the process needs," she said.

Ross Vincent, a member of the advisory panel, said the Army should have done a more in-depth study called a supplemental environmental impact statement. That would have required higher standards for documentation and details, given the public more time to review it and required the Army to respond to public comments, he said.

"Now they want to do a major change in the project and they want to blow it off with a superficial document and a finding of no significant impact," Vincent said.

Kevin Flamm, director of the Army agency overseeing the destruction process for the Colorado and Kentucky sites, defended the thoroughness of the draft assessment and noted the public comment period is 30 days longer than required by law.

"If the public feels we have overlooked some aspect, that's what the comment period is for," he said.

Flamm said he understands the public's concerns. He said he planned to attend a public meeting on the draft environmental assessment scheduled for March 18 in Pueblo.

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On the Net:

Draft environmental assessment: http://www.pmacwa.army.mil/info/dl/pueblo-EA-feb2010.pdf

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