Incineration of chemical weapons makes nation safer

The destruction of nerve agents and mustard gas won't be interrupted by a lawsuit. A federal judge tossed it out last week.

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About half of this nation's stockpile of chemical weapons -- 31,500 tons of nerve agents and mustard gas -- has been safely destroyed over the past 15 years. And all indications are that the U.S. military will be just as successful in incinerating the remaining chemical weapons by the deadline of 2017.

Yet, a watchdog organization -- the Chemical Weapons Working Group based in Kentucky -- has sued to stop the incineration. It maintains better methods exist to get rid of the chemical weapons. It insists the incineration method currently being used releases toxic pollution, including mercury, into the air.

That's highly doubtful, and the lawsuit is dubious. One of the places where the chemical weapons are being rendered harmless is at the Umatilla Army Depot near Hermiston, which is about 50 miles from Walla Walla. Given the close proximity, folks in this Valley are interested in the safety precautions taken at the chemical depot. All appears going well.

Last week a federal judge threw out the lawsuit on the grounds that the group did not prove safer alternatives to incineration are available. It was a wise decision.

We believe it is a good thing that watchdog groups such as this one are out there keeping the heat on our government, which can at times be inept or deceptive or both. That, however, does not appear to be the case with chemical weapons destruction at Umatilla or the other´┐Ż sites around the country. The incineration process is not perfect -- what is? -- but it appears to be safe and effective in eliminating the chemical weapons.

Those weapons, which are stored in secure igloos at the Umatilla Army Depot and elsewhere, pose a risk. Time has been taking a toll on the containers and at some point there could be a disaster.

The United States no longer uses chemical weapons and signed an international treaty in 1993 agreeing to destroy all of the nerve agents and mustard gas. It was the right thing to do.

The progress made thus far is to be commended, not criticized.

It will take nearly a decade to dispose of the remaining weapons. The Kentucky-based watchdog group and others should continue to monitor the process because an error -- even a tiny one -- will be lethal.

But the court ruling that allows the incineration to continue makes us all safer.

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