By Karen Hutchinson-Talaski

Staff writer

HERMISTON — In light of the fact mercury has been found in the mustard gas stored at the Tooele Chemical Depot in Utah, officials at the Umatilla Chemical Depot are looking into whether or not mercury is present in Umatilla's stockpile.

According to Mary Binder, Army public affairs officer, the Army is watching Tooele closely.

"We are planning to do testing," Binder said. "This is not a new issue. We will follow what Tooele is doing."

Tooele is closer to destroying mustard gas than Umatilla, Binder says.

"Mustard is last for us," Binder said. "We have several years to go (before destruction of mustard)."

Tooele may have to modify their plant to remain compliant with environmental regulations, according to Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, logistics and technology. He told a U.S. House committee that the Army is investigating whether mercury contamination exists at other facilities, like Umatilla.

Mercury was recently discovered in part of the stockpile of mustard agent at the Toole, Utah, depot. The Tooele depot has a major incinerator facility similar to the one at the Umatilla Chemical Depot.

Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and the immune system of people of all ages, according to the EPA. Mercury in the air eventually settles into the water where methylmercury can build up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat them.

Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury in humans. If high levels of methylmercury enter the bloodstreams of fetuses and young children, it can cause problems in their nervous systems, creating learning disabilities.

In other Umatilla Chemical Depot news, four storage igloos have been emptied at the Umatilla Chemical Depot since destruction of chemical weapons began in September of 2004.

So far, 1.43 percent of the total agent stored at Umatilla has been destroyed.

That amounts to 106,398 pounds of GB (sarin) no longer on the depot. During the week of March 31 to April 6, 1,506 GB-filled rockets and 14,060 pounds of agent were been destroyed.

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