A defense contractor has been fined more than $800,000 over the past 12 years while incinerating a stockpile of leftover Cold War chemical weapons stored at the Army's Umatilla Chemical Depot in northeastern Oregon.
The latest fines from the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality were for lapses such as failing to inspect pollution control equipment before putting it back into operation. They amounted to $38,400, bringing the total to $853,600.
Department environmental law specialist Sarah Wheeler said none of the violations resulted in environmental or public health harm.
Hal McCune of Washington Demilitarization Co. said the bulk of the fines were the result of problems reported by the company itself. Some of the fines have been reduced through negotiations, and the company has paid about $725,000. Nearly half of that has gone to community programs such as food banks around Central Oregon.
"It is difficult to abide by the very stringent regulations we have," McCune said. "We do our best, but understand that we may not always be able to measure up to those strict requirements. We respect DEQ's ruling."
The depot once held 12 percent of the nation's stockpile of old chemical weapons. The incinerator, which employs about 800 people, finished disposing of the chemical weapons three weeks ago. It is still operating to dispose of secondary waste, such as protective suits worn by workers. It is scheduled to be completely shut down over the next three years.
Washington Demilitarization is a subsidiary of URS Corp., which has contracts to dispose of 90 percent of the chemical weapons stockpile around the country.
The latest fine was for failing to properly set the incinerator's operating parameters while treating contaminated water used to rinse mustard agent containers, failing to inspect a spare mist eliminator before using it to process water contaminated with mustard agent, and failing to monitor air quality outside a container used to store mustard agent as often as required.
McCune said they were unlikely to appeal the latest fine, but still were reviewing it.