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U.S. Needs New Strategy on Interred Chemical Armaments: Report

The United States should adopt a new strategy for recognizing and disposing of interred chemical armaments and warfare agents that turn up in cleanup efforts at current and shuttered Defense Department facilities, the National Research Council said in an assessment made public on Monday (see GSN, May 10, 2010).

The analysis -- funded by the Army Chemical Materials Agency -- asserts that existing arrangements are not sufficiently dependable and lack means of effective application to major undertakings, according to a press release.

The United States frequently incinerated and interred chemical arms materials as a means of disposal throughout the first half of the 20th century at roughly 250 locations in Washington, D.C., 40 states and three other jurisdictions. Remediation of vestiges of those materials and munitions falls outside existing efforts to eliminate the U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons.

The Army and Defense secretary should each assign one governmental entity to oversee and finance handling of such materials on the Pentagon's behalf, the paper's authors advised. Responsibility for carrying out and financing such efforts is now contingent on the recovery site and means by which substances are found, and can fall on a number of groups operating under the Defense secretary and Army Secretariat.

The Army's chemical-weapon treatment operations are expanding and are projected to require billions of dollars over a period of years, according to the nongovernmental science organization.

The paper advises the Army secretary to establish either a senior executive-grade nonmilitary post or a general officer-grade armed forces opening to oversee handling of uncovered chemical warfare substance. The official would ideally be responsible for all related policies, funding and coordination of the remediation effort, according to the assessment.

National Research Council analysts urged the Defense secretary to increase the budget for recovered chemical warfare substances with the aim of allowing the Army by next year to fully take stock of confirmed and possible interred chemical arms. The Army would also create a systematic procedure for determining budgetary needs for relevant efforts. The head of the Army Chemical Materials Agency could temporarily assume responsibility for the tasks prior to the implementation of a longer-term organizational scheme, according to the paper (National Academies release, Aug. 6).

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