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Regional Toxic Fuel Shipments Delayed : U.S. Agrees to Study Alternate Routes for Trucks to Vandenberg

December 10, 1987|PAUL HOUSTON | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — The Defense Department agreed Wednesday to halt truck shipments of highly toxic rocket fuel to Vandenberg Air Force Base for the rest of the month while studies continue on another proposed detour around Los Angeles.

The announcement was made at a House hearing, where California Reps. William M. Thomas (R-Bakersfield) and Leon E. Panetta (D-Monterey) sharply criticized the Air Force for using, on short notice last week, a route that ran through populated areas of Kern and San Luis Obispo counties.

Suitable Route

Thomas said later that federal and state officials hope to determine by Dec. 18 whether California 166--a rural road needing some improvements--would be a more suitable route for shipping the fuel on its last leg from a Vicksburg, Miss., plant.

For years, the fuel was shipped through Pasadena, Glendale and the San Fernando Valley, but the Air Force abandoned that route three months ago under pressure from Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and area congressmen.

Danger Seen in Spill

An accidental spill of the fuel, hydrogen tetroxide, could produce a gas cloud twice as deadly as the gas leak from a Union Carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, which killed more than 2,000 people three years ago.

Defense Department official Robert H. Moore told the House government operations subcommittee on transportation that the Air Force had planned to send six more truckloads of rocket fuel to Vandenberg this month but agreed to hold off while a "risk assessment" is made of two routes.

One route, used last week by three trucks carrying 90,000 gallons of fuel, is U-shaped and passes through the heart of Bakersfield, Paso Robles, Atascadero and San Luis Obispo. The other route, California 166, goes directly toward Vandenberg from a point south of Bakersfield, passing only through the town of Maricopa.

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