HERMISTON - Umatilla Chemical Depot officials are waiting for laboratory test results and are conducting maintenance on the depot's heating and ventilation systems before they move forward with the start of incineration of chemical weapons, said Doug Hamrick, depot site manager for the Washington Demilitarization Company, the contractor operating the plant that will destroy the weapons.
The depot was originally scheduled to begin burning M55 rockets filled with poisonous sarin today. Instead, officials announced earlier this week that they would delay the start of destruction of the more than 7.4 million pounds of chemical agent stored at the depot in a variety of munitions.
A trace amount of vapor from industrial chemicals used in testing of the plant's operations appeared in the heating and ventilation system last weekend, causing concern, Hamrick said.
"It surprised us," he said, adding that the surrogate chemicals, used in place of real chemical agent, should not have traveled as far as they did through the system.
Samples of the chemicals were sent to a lab in order to discover more about their makeup and whether or not they should have easily been caught by the carbon filter system the plant uses, Hamrick said. Typically, the surrogate materials should be much harder to catch then the chemical agent is expected to be.
Also, to be safe, Hamrick said depot employees are replacing the carbon filters with new ones.
All of that activity is expected to take several days, he said.
Lt. Col. David Holliday, depot commander, said he thought it was prudent to wait for these activities to be completed before beginning destruction of the chemical weapons.
Holliday said he does believe the plant will be ready to start up next week.
"That's what we have on the plans," he said.