Leaky Fort Greely barrels not weapon material

Posted: Sunday, May 26, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says 24 leaky World War II-era barrels unearthed at Fort Greely last month apparently contained nothing more exotic than weathered sulfuric acid, not a chemical warfare agent.

Several tests were run on the substance that was leaking from some of the rusty, crushed barrels accidentally unearthed April 8 by contract construction workers, the DEC said.

The testers reached the conclusion that it was most likely sulfuric acid. That substance can be produced when a decontamination product formerly used by the military breaks down.

The DEC results match the conclusions of preliminary field tests, which determined that the product was highly acidic but not a chemical warfare agent.

The barrels were found within a half-acre area about a mile from the main group of Fort Greely buildings and less than 2 miles east of the Richardson Highway, according to U.S. Army Alaska spokesman Chuck Canterbury.

They were uncovered about 3 feet below the ground surface by workers for the Anchorage-based Aglaq Corp. and subcontractor Brice Inc. who were preparing the site for Fort Greely's National Missile Defense System.

Some of the barrels were leaking a ''greenish and yellow,'' frozen crystallized material into the soil. The drums were labeled C.W.S, the acronym for the Army's former Chemical Warfare Service.

The CWS served as the Army's biological and chemical warfare division until it was renamed the Chemical Corps in 1946.

Site work was immediately stopped and the 103rd Civil Support Team, a National Guard squad that specializes in hazardous materials, was sent out from Fort Richardson.

Three of the exposed contract workers sought medical attention for rashes. According to Canterbury, one worker complained of a red rash on his chest and another had what looked like insect bites around his neck and waist. He said medical personnel ruled out the rashes being a result of exposure to chemicals.

Still, the site was cordoned off and placed under guard.

Samples of the soil and leaking material were shipped to a laboratory on the East Coast for testing.

The DEC report, issued Friday, says only the surrounding soil was contaminated, and the Army has asked permission from the DEC's contaminated sites program to deal with the material on-site, probably by neutralizing the acid.

Fort Greely encompasses about 650,000 acres south of Delta Junction, about 100 miles southeast of Fairbanks.

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