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Sensitive napalm shipment may head back to California

Containers filled with napalm  
April 16, 1998
Web posted at: 3:28 p.m. EDT (1928 GMT)

KANSAS CITY, Kansas (CNN) -- A train carrying napalm that triggered protests when it was shipped halfway across the country is apparently headed back to California while the Pentagon looks for another company to dispose of it.

The napalm, the first of several planned shipments, was headed for East Chicago, Indiana, when it departed Saturday from a naval weapons station in Fallbrook, California, near San Diego.

The waste-management firm Pollution Control Industries had subcontracted to recycle the material into fuel for cement kilns. But the company abruptly backed out of its $2.5 million deal on Monday, abandoning the 12,000-gallon shipment of jellied gasoline en route.

The napalm was being held at a Kansas City, Kansas, railroad yard while the Pentagon finalized an agreement with the state of California to temporarily store it at the China Lake Naval Weapons Testing Station. The agreement will let the Pentagon keep the napalm there for up to 90 days.

The China Lake facility is about 120 miles northwest of Los Angeles.

A Navy source told CNN that negotiations also were under way with other companies interested in taking over the recycling project. PCI pulled out of the agreement because, according to a PCI spokeswoman, the project would damage relations with customers and the community. The primary contractor on the recycling job is Battelle Memorial Institute.

The napalm is part of 22 million pounds of a Navy and Air Force stockpile that has been stored in California for about 25 years. California officials sought its removal after some containers began leaking in the field where they were stored.

"We have a number of firms who were in the original bidding to do this, along with PCI, and we will select one or more qualified firms to do the recycling of the material," Robert Pirie, assistant secretary of the Navy for installations and environment, told CNN Early Edition.

Robert Pirie
Robert Pirie  

While there had been widespread public concern that the napalm was too volatile to ship, Pirie said, "It is a good deal less dangerous than shipping ordinary gasoline."

Comparing the substance to Sterno, a jellied fuel often used in camping stoves, he said, "It's one of the safest projects of this kind that I know about," particularly since the fuse and phosphorous initiator were not in the mixture. (icon 1.1MBK/26 sec. AIFF or WAV sound)

Napalm was used in the Vietnam War to burn foliage. Lt. Cmdr. Jon Smith, a Navy spokesman, said the military still wants to recycle all the stored napalm. PCI's contract was part of a larger $24 million recycling program.

CNN Pentagon Producer Chris Plante contributed to this report.

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