Published on Thursday, May 11, 2000 by CNN
Army Shuts Down Chemical Weapons Facility After Poison Sarin Gas Leak Detected
The U.S. Army chemical weapons facility at Tooele, Utah, will remain shut down for several days until an investigation into a leak of poison gas has been completed, Army officials have told CNN.

The facility was shut down on Monday night after alarms sounded, indicating a leak in a smokestack, officials said.

No public health problems were reported, they said, as a result of the incident.

The Deseret Depot at the facility, which is used for the destruction of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile, shut down operations and evacuated personnel when the leak was detected at about 10 p.m. local time (1 a.m. EDT).

Officials said "a trace" of a nerve agent the Army calls "GB" (sarin nerve gas) was detected in the smokestack attached to the chemical weapons incinerator. They did not say why there was a two-day delay in making the incident public.

One official said "operations ceased Monday night when (smoke) stack monitors registered trace amounts of GB. The official said the leak "posed no danger to anyone and there was no danger to the population of Tooele or to the workers."

Workers have not returned and will not return to the facility until a complete investigation is finished. This is expected to take "several days."

The official said, "They had been processing GB in the stack until about 4 p.m. local time, about six hours before the alarm went off." The sensors are designed to detect "very, very low levels" of the nerve agent.

The Army has sent chemical weapons experts from the U.S. Army Nuclear and Chemical Agency and the U.S. Army Technical Center for Explosive Safety, according to officials.

Heading the investigation will be Col. Kevin Connors, Deputy Director of the Army Safety Center in Washington, D.C.

Sarin is a colorless and odorless gas and has a lethal dose of 0.5 milligram for an adult. It is 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas, 20 times more lethal than potassium cyanide. Just 0.01 milligram per kilogram of body weight, a pinprick-sized droplet, will kill a human.

The vapor is slightly heavier than air, so it stays close to the ground. Under wet and humid weather conditions sarin degrades swiftly, but as the temperature rises up to a certain point, sarin's lethal duration increases, despite the humidity.

In Japan, two subway workers died in March, 1995, trying to remove a bag of sarin gas from a rush hour commuter train in central Tokyo. Twelve people died and 5,300 became ill as a result of the gas attack, alleged to have been committed by the Aum Shinri Kyo cult.

2000 Cable News Network