Cleanup crew stumbles onto dangerous Cold War relic

Posted: Friday, June 30, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- An environmental cleanup crew working on the Seward Peninsula made a surprising discovery this week -- a decades-old container that apparently holds mustard gas.

Air Force officials at Elmendorf Air Force Base say the crew was working at a remote radar site at Tin City when it stumbled upon a chemical warfare test kit that dates back to the post-World War II era, when the Cold War was raging.

A label on the 40-inch-long steel cylinder states that it contains 84 ounces of mustard or distilled mustard.

Maj. Wade Weisman, a bioenvironmental engineer at Elmendorf, said the chemical is a clear liquid that can cause reactions ranging from redness in the eyes or skin to severe blistering.

A special unit from the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland is scheduled to arrive in Alaska next week to retrieve the kit, which was discovered Tuesday under a pile of debris at the Tin City Long Range Radar Site, about 100 miles northwest of Nome.

The Technical Escort Unit will search the area for other chemical warfare material and collect environmental samples for testing, said Maj. Les Kodlick, spokesman for the Alaskan Command, headquartered at Elmendorf.

Kodlick said the kit found in Tin City is intact and poses no threat to people or animals.

''We're taking every precaution,'' Kodlick said. ''Our primary concern is the health and safety of our workers and anybody in the surrounding areas. The risk to human health and wildlife is very slim, if any at all.''

The kits were used from World War II through the 1950s to teach soldiers how to identify chemical warfare agents and safely decontaminate areas where they were used, he said.

The military began operating the Tin City radar station in 1953. It is staffed by three to four people year-round.

Earlier this month, the Air Force announced that an 18-month review of military records found no evidence of chemical warfare material buried at installations in Alaska.

But officials also cautioned that the records didn't account for disposal of all the chemical agents known to have been located in the Pacific.

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