Nerve gas agent detected in waste bin at Johnston Atoll

HONOLULU (AP) - Officials at the recently shut down chemical weapons incinerator on Johnston Atoll are investigating the discovery of a deadly nerve gas agent in a waste bin at the facility 825 miles southwest of Hawaii.

U.S. Army Pacific Command spokesman Joe Bonfiglio said Wednesday that the incident Tuesday wasn't serious and posed no risk to workers or the environment.

As a precaution, nine workers were given blood tests that determined there was no exposure to the VX nerve agent, said Catherine Herlinger, a spokeswoman at the Program Manager for Chemical Demilitarization in Maryland.

Workers detected the agent in the waste bin at the end of the heated discharge conveyor which collects furnace residue which is normally uncontaminated, she said.

The trace of agent apparently was contained in special liquid absorption pads used during facility's final project to destroy 13,000 land mines containing VX nerve gas. The pads also are incinerated as part of the process, said Cheryl Maggio, a chemical specialist at PMCD.

There was no detection of VX during the routine tests done on 25 other bins of heated waste, she said.

She could not recall any previous incident of nerve gas agent showing up in the waste bins.

The Johnston Atoll disposal system concluded its 10-year operation last week and is to be dismantled and removed, leaving the remote atoll as a wildlife preserve.

Since 1990, 4 million pounds of sarin nerve gas, mustard gas and blister agent dating back to World War II have been incinerated at the facility along with more than 400,000 rockets, projectiles, bombs and mortars containing chemical agents.


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