General Aug 25, 2011 at 4:00 am

After 50 Years, Oregon Is Almost Done Incinerating Its Cache of WMDs, One by One.


Interesting article. If you grow up around that stuff, and have no interest in moving elsewhere, you just relax and hope for the best, I guess. In California they sometimes publish, in the local papers, little "potential toxic footprint" maps for even small industrial sites in the city; I was always quite interested in whether I lived in one or another footprint. There wasn't mustard gas involved, of course, but lesser toxins can be pretty nasty too...
I said "in the city" because at first I was just writing about L.A., but changed it because those maps were mandated by a statewide law down there, I believe.
While somewhat 'dramatic' the article is basically incorrect on several important points. First of all, the depot originally was designed to store munitions, not chemical weapons. Most of the depot igloos have been empty for many years. It was a munitions igloo that blew up. Normal ordinance like bombs. Not chemical weapons. Only a small portion of the total depot was dedicated to the storage of nerve agent and mustard gas. So, big misleading error here.

Next, these 'weapons of mass distruction' were really intended to incapacitate or kill soldiers on the battlefield. Mustard gas was not that dangerous as explained by Wikipedia: "The contribution of gas weapons to the total casualty figures was relatively minor. British figures, which were accurately maintained from 1916, recorded that only 3% of gas casualties were fatal, 2% were permanently invalid and 70% were fit for duty again within six weeks." Also according to Wikipedia, the US casualties in WW1 were 1462, a far cry from the 10s of thousand intimated in the article. Also mustard gas is heavier than air and did not travel far from the point of application, so Hermiston was never in much danger from being exposed to Mustard gas.

The more dangerous nerve gas agents were purposely designed to have specific spread rates, with the most toxic nerve agent incorporated with an oily base so that it would splatter a short distance and stick to soldiers and cause illness or death on contact. An igloo of this material could explode, but the agent would not disperse very far at all, hence the Hermiston area was never in danger from the most toxic nerve agent, again the article is over exaggerated.

The biggest concern of local residents not stated at all in the article was for the safety of the people who had to store and maintain the deadly agents. Some nerve agent was in canisters on rockets. The propellant in the rocket motors was becoming unstable over the years of storage and people who had to check on these were being exposed to the danger of one of the rockets exploding -- unrelated to the nerve agent. So, local residents were happy to see the material being incinerated rather than becoming and even worse threat to the workers trying to keep the storage facilities safe.

Articles like this tend to mislead rather than inform the public. They also tend paint rural areas like Hermiston as being backward and/or the people being stupid. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Hermiston residents are very progressive, very open to new business, and very open to new ideas and technology. Hermiston was the first city in the US to have a city-wide wireless internet system. Local agriculture is some of the most technologically advanced in the world. But you can't get this impression by reading this article. It is too bad.

I have lived in San Jose, CA; Salem, Portland, and Umatilla, Oregon (next door to Hermiston and even closer to the Ordinace Depot) and by far, Hermiston has been absolutely the best area I have ever lived.

So, reread the article and then relax and enjoy the rest of your day. Hermiston is fine. It is a nice place to live. The people are stupid or backward. Sometimes authors dramatize events for effect on their readers.
I of course meant to say that Hermiston people are not stupid and appolgize for a the other typos.
Tony also forgot to mention that Hermiston produces some damn fine melons!
@jwiffy: Should we remind them that Hermiston residents are eligible to enter videos in "Hump!"?

A "Toxic Avenger" homage might go down well, so to speak...
Just to be clear- i did not intend my comment to be snarky or sarcastic. They really do grow some delicious melons in the Hermiston area- a true Oregon delicacy. Nice folks out there too.
I knew jwiffy was being serious and sincere, and I take full responsibility for dragging this comment thread into the gutter. For once I even feel a little bad about it. I'd like to blame those "Hump!" ads for affecting my judgment.
I'm not saying I blame them, I'd just like to.

Please wait...

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