AIR FORCE MAY UNCOVER SITE OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS.
EDWARDS AIR FORCE BASE - Citing concerns about safety of airmen in nearby dorms, Edwards officials are recommending spending $8 million to $13 million to dig up trenches suspected of containing chemical warfare materials.
Located less than 24 feet from a new dorm, the trenches were part of a chemical weapons storage area during the 1940s. Records show that the storage yard, which closed in 1946, may have contained the chemical agents mustard gas, lewisite, phosgene and chloropicrin.
Tests have revealed no conclusive evidence of what is in the trenches.
``Two primary considerations in making this recommendation are the safety of our people and fiscal responsibility,'' said Robert Wood, Edwards' Environmental Restoration Division chief. ``Right now, we have the luxury of time. There is nothing coming out of the trenches, so they pose no health risk.''
The Air Force is looking at three options for handling the four filled-in trenches:
--Restrict access and establish monitoring stations at a cost of about $1.1 million.
--Cover the area with concrete and install monitoring stations, at a cost of $1.3 million.
--Excavate the site, at a cost of $8 million to $13 million.
An Air Force peer review concluded that capping is all that is required. However, the base's restoration advisory board - a citizens panel that offers advice on cleanup activities - recommended digging up the trenches, as did Desert Citizens Against Pollution, an Antelope Valley environmental group.
``That's the position we've taken for years,'' said DCAP leader Lyle Talbot. ``The safety of the airmen is the most important thing, regardless of the dollars.''
Base officials agreed.
``Complete excavation is the only way we'll ever know the trenches' contents,'' Wood said. ``Their proximity to the airmen's dormitories is a key factor in our recommendation.''
The $10.6 million, 136-person dorm opened in 1998.
The Air Force became aware of the trenches in September 1997, about the same time contracts were awarded for construction of the new dorm.
Each of the four trenches is 165 feet long, 15 feet wide and and of an unknown depth.
An archives search determined there was a chemical weapons storage area there from 1942 to 1946. At the time, the area was a remote section of the base, then named Muroc.
A draft of the engineering and cost evaluations for the options for handling the trenches is expected to be available in October or November.