Washington, DC — A nearly four-year federal criminal investigation into pollution violations at the U.S. Army’s Blue Grass Depot has ended inconclusively but found a number of disquieting “administrative violations,” according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The investigative files show a history of unreported leaks, dumping of contaminated “pink water” and a management incapable of monitoring conditions inside the “igloos” where rockets filled with deadly chemical weapons are stored at the facility, outside of Richmond, 30 miles south of Lexington.
A federal criminal investigation began in December 2005, prompted by reports filed by whistleblowers working at Blue Grass where more than 500 tons of chemical weapons, including highly lethal VX nerve agent, are stored. Federal prosecutors, who empanelled a grand jury, concluded in March 2009 that the requisite criminal intent of Blue Grass depot managers could not be proven. Investigative files that PEER obtained under the Freedom of Information Act contain numerous witness interviews detailing deficiencies at the depot, including—
- Leaks from chemical weapons igloos that went unreported for weeks;
- Mold inside the igloos that is destroying the wooden pallets on which the chemical weapon rockets rest, yet Blue Grass does not monitor mold damage;
- Water samples from inside the igloos were routinely poured down the sewer, which led to the lake that provides the majority of drinking water for the city of Richmond;
- Contaminated water from washing munitions (“pink water”) was collecting in sumps and likely contaminating groundwater; and
- Blue Grass managers were unaware of how chemical weapons monitoring operations were supposed to work and thus were incapable of supervising compliance.
“This appears to be a case where ignorance of the law turned out to be an excuse,” stated PEER Senior Counsel Paula Dinerstein, noting that the sheer incompetence of depot managers shielded them from criminal indictment. “If what occurs at Blue Grass is not be a crime it is certainly nothing to be proud of.”
It is not clear that operational flaws at Blue Grass have been remedied. One report from the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection concludes that “major areas of concern” remain. As one statement read, Blue Grass management “worked on the premise that unless you make actual contact with VX then you will not get hurt.”
In addition, the depot operates under a climate of fear that discourages reports of breakdowns. “Virtually all of the scientists and technicians who reported problems were driven off,” added Dinerstein, whose organization represented some of the whistleblowers in the probe. “It would be refreshing if some of those who risked their careers to sound the alarm were brought back to clean house.”