Two Workers Exposed to Nerve Agent

Workers repairing equipment at a chemical weapons incinerator were exposed to a deadly nerve agent when it leaked into a room where they were working.

Two workers repairing equipment at a chemical weapons incinerator in Tooele, Utah were exposed to a deadly nerve agent Sunday when it leaked into a room where they were working.

The nerve agent did not show up in blood tests taken from the workers immediately after the leak was discovered, and the workers showed no symptoms of sarin exposure, said Deseret Chemical Depot spokesman John Pettebone.

When inhaled, sarin constricts the lungs and can halt breathing.

Pettebone said the sarin vapors were confined to the area and posed no danger to the surrounding communities or environment.

The two workers were in a room at the Tooele Chemical Demilitarization Facility repairing a conveyor belt that carries metal out of a decontamination furnace used to destroy traces of the nerve agent from metal, such as large containers.

The furnace was turned off and allowed to cool before the workers entered the area. They were in the room and unprotected when a sarin-detection alarm went off, officials said.

"They had their masks with them, but they did not have their masks on. The alarm went off, and that is when they got out quickly," said Pettebone.

The Tooele incinerator, approximately 50 miles west of Salt Lake City, has been operating since 1996.

It was built to destroy nerve and blistering agents stockpiled at the Army's Deseret Chemical Depot since World War II.

The plant's safety has been questioned by a former permit manager who last month alleged that officials at the incinerator rigged tests and misled state regulators to conceal the plant's inability to safely destroy nerve agents.

Officials with the Army and EG&G Defense Systems Inc., the contractor that runs the plant, say the incinerator is safe.

The Army plans to investigate the allegations.

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