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Chemical weapons incinerator fight comes to Atlanta

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The U.S. Army has built a chemical weapons incinerator just over the state line in Anniston, Ala., that threatens Atlanta, according to environmental groups.

Anniston, about an hour-and-a-half drive due west, has for more than five years been the epicenter of a fierce battle between the Army, environmental and civil rights groups, and the state of Alabama.

The Army wants to begin burning live chemical agents there sometime in the first quarter of 2003. Everybody else wants to close down the plant before it ever gets started.

Studies based on chemical weapon dispersion in the Gulf War, conducted by the Gulf War Research Foundation and the Chronic Illness Research Foundation, show that Atlanta could be hit by mustard and nerve gases if something went wrong in Anniston.

The Coosa River Basin Initiative, an environmental group based in Rome, joined the fray by filing a lawsuit in federal court in Birmingham to prevent the Army from burning any chemical weapons in Anniston.

The lawsuit, filed with 11 other groups, says Army incinerators are proven failures and asks that the Army and state use other, more reliable methods for disposing of the chemical weapons stored in Anniston.

According to the Chemical Weapons Working Group, problems at other Army incinerators have led to 18 accidental chemical agent releases.

The two most recent resulted in the release of VX nerve gas from an incinerator on a Pacific atoll in August, and the July shut down of an incinerator in Utah where workers were exposed to nerve gas.

The Army has maintained throughout the battle over that incineration is a safe way to get rid of its aging chemical weapons stockpile.

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