Nerve gas monitors were inoperative from 2003 to 2005 at the U.S. Army’s Blue Grass Army Depot, near Richmond, Kentucky. This week, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) released a 2006 Army Inspector General’s report that made this finding. The failure of the monitors might never have come to light if it wasn’t for Donald Van Winkle, a chemical weapons monitoring operator at Blue Grass. After he tried and failed to get management to correct the problem, he was forced to file a complaint with the Inspector General.
In other findings, the Army’s Inspector General confirmed Van Winkle’s concerns 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; and
- These changes were contrary to Army protocols and safety standards but only minor disciplinary action was taken against the responsible managers.
The Army resisted releasing the Inspector General’s report for three years citing an ongoing criminal investigation. Now the Army is resisting PEER’s requests for information about the status of that criminal investigation.
“At Blue Grass, the Army was flying blind in protecting its chemical weapons stockpile,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein on the organization’s web page. “Incredibly, the Army’s attitude appears to be that since no workers or civilians were killed then no harm no foul.”