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Top California air polluter is Army Depot north of Reno

HERLONG, Calif. – The Sierra Army Depot 55 miles northwest of Reno, Nev., was California’s leading air polluter in 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said.

The military base in eastern Lassen County discharged 5.4 million pounds of toxic chemicals that year, about 17 percent of the total released into the air statewide, the EPA’s annual toxic release inventory said.

Local neighbors and other opponents are trying to halt the Army’s practice of burning and detonating obsolete munitions on an open hillside behind the facility near Herlong.



Base officials are seeking state and federal permits to annually destroy more than 106 million pounds of out-of-date bullets, bombs, rocket motors and artillery, one of the depot’s primary missions.

All of the chemicals reported by the EPA were discharged by the demolition operation, said Adam Browning, regional coordinator of the EPA’s toxic inventory program.




More than 4 million pounds are aluminum fumes, he told the Sacramento Bee.

Other chemicals include roughly 1 million pounds of copper, and more than 130,000 pounds of zinc and emissions containing lead, nickel, hydrogen cyanide and styrene.

Critics who believe the operation is a public health hazard want the Army to adopt new technology that would limit the toxic air emissions.

A depot spokesman said the munitions site is in compliance with local and government guidelines. He cautioned against equating toxic releases with risk or violations of environmental laws.

”Obviously it’s a sensitive issue,” Larry Rogers told the Sacramento Bee.

Part of the problem may stem from the way the depot reports its emissions to the EPA, Rogers said.

Sierra uses an ”over-prediction process” that documents 100 percent of the materials released. In reality, some residual material remains and is recycled, he said.

The California Department of Toxic Substances Control has been analyzing the blasts since 1994, when Army officials applied for a permit after operating 14 years under interim status.

Since holding public hearings last fall, state officials have been conducting additional studies and reviewing the more than 2,000 public comments they have received, said Ron Baker, a department spokesman.

In a separate process, county and federal officials are considering what requirements to include in a permit to bring the base into compliance with the federal Clean Air Act. Lassen County Air Officer Ken Smith recently submitted a revised permit to regional EPA officials. They have 45 days to comment on it, Smith said.

The emissions controversy jeopardizes all 450 jobs at the base but puts the 35 demolition workers at particular risk of losing jobs, said Rogers, the depot spokesman. The operation is just ”ramping up” for the season to demolish about 24 million pounds of material this year, about half the historic quantity, he said.


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