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Napalm Train: Last Stop, Texas

Many California residents have their fingers crossed. "I'll believe it when it actually gets there, and we don't see it returning," one resident tells KFMB Reporter Katherine Blake.

The Vietnam War-era napalm is once again loaded on a railcar. Navy officials are hoping this will finally be a one-way ticket out of town for the jellied gasoline.

On Monday, two 5,000-gallon containers of napalm sat on a railcar at Camp Pendleton, north of San Diego, waiting for a ride to Deer Park, Texas. The shipment was scheduled to leave by midnight, but had not departed early Tuesday, according to Navy Capt. David Swingle.

A second shipment carrying two 6,000-gallon containers was also scheduled to depart China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station (northeast of Los Angeles) Tuesday and head toward Houston.

The Navy sent a train carrying 12,000 gallons of napalm to Kansas in April, but it had to be rerouted to China Lake after an Indiana company pulled out of its contract to recycle the compound due to public and political pressure.

GNI Group Inc. was awarded the $10 million contract last week, and the first shipment is due to arrive at the company's Deer Park facility on Thursday, traveling the last 22 miles by truck, authorities said.

"We're really glad to get on with the project and get the material moving," Navy spokesman Robert Westberg said.
In light of the clamor sparked by the April shipment, neither the Navy, the prime contractor, GNI, nor the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad would specify what time the first train was scheduled to depart or what route it would take.

Some Houston-area residents have objected to importing the napalm, arguing that the petrochemical-intensive area around the Houston Ship Channel has enough dangerous cargo. Last week, Assistant Navy Secretary Robert B. Pirie Jr. traveled to Deer Park to try to ease their concerns.

A spokesman for Battelle Memorial Institute, the Navy's prime contractor for the disposal, insisted the project is environmentally sound.

"We would like to keep everyone happy, but obviously that's not going to happen," Battelle spokesman Robin Yocum said.

The Navy says napalm (a mixture of polystyrene, gasoline and benzene) is far less volatile than gasoline and won't explode without a fuse.

But in the spring, officials weren't able to alleviate the fears of Chicago-area and northern Indiana residents. Napalm is often associated with images of Vietnamese villagers who ran screaming as the jellied substance clung to them and burned the skin from their bodies.

An East Chicago, Ind., company abruptly backed out of its contract with the napalm already en route. The 12,000 gallons were rerouted to the China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station northeast of Los Angeles.

The Navy, facing a July 16 deadline set by the Environmental Protection Agency to remove the material from China Lake, embarked on search for a company and a community willing to take it.

A total of 3.3 million gallons, left over from the Vietnam War, have been stored at the Fallbrook Naval Weapons Facility since 1973.

The first shipments will be stored in a secure area for a few weeks until the recycling operation is up and running, said Bill Reeves, GNI's vice president of regulatory affairs. The napalm is to be shipped batch-by-batch over the next two years, with up to about 12,000 gallons arriving in Texas each day, five days a week.