Cost of destroying chemical weapons underestimated, report says


Congressional investigators say the Army is underestimating the cost of destroying its chemical weapons stockpiles at Aberdeen Proving Ground and seven other U.S. sites.

In a report made public yesterday by a nationwide citizens group with members in Maryland and elsewhere, the U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) said the program could cost taxpayers nearly $11.4 billion -- nearly a sevenfold increase over the original estimate of $1.7 billion.

Two members of Congress, Democratic Rep. Glen Browder of Alabama and Republican Rep. James V. Hansen of Utah, also have introduced legislation requiring a strict financial review of the Army's Chemical Stockpile Emergency Pre- paredness Program, saying that there is little to show for the $200 million spent so far to protect communities near the stockpiles.

The disposal effort and the emergency program are run by an Army agency at Aberdeen.

The citizens group, which is fighting the Army's plan to build huge incinerators to destroy the weapons, said the GAO report documents the "runaway spending" of the disposal program.

"It's time to abandon incineration and get on with developing safer, more cost-effective alternatives," said Craig Williams of the Chemical Weapons Working Group.

The Army is operating a prototype incinerator on a remote Pacific island, and the first mainland incinerator is to start operation in September. Meanwhile, Army researchers at Aberdeen are studying chemical and biological means of destroying the stockpiles.

An Army spokeswoman acknowledged that the service is still learning the true cost of its chemical weapons disposal program.

Spokeswoman Marilyn Tischbin said the Army does not expect to find a cheaper way of destroying the stockpiles. And she said it is still a "reasonable assumption" that the Army can operate six U.S. incinerators, including one at Aberdeen, simultaneously.

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