Residents in the surrounding area deemed most at risk should there be a chemical spillage have been offered hoods and air filters. The army plans to incinerate some M-55 rockets armed with the nerve gas sarin.

 “We've got an incinerator sitting in the middle of a bunch of black people and poor whites,”  Rev. Nimrod Reynolds, pastor of the 17th Street Missionary Baptist Church. “We have been the whipping boy for a long time.”

The US has agreed, as a signatory of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1999, to destroy some 30,000 tons of chemical weapons by 2007. About 1 percent of the stockpile has already been incinerated at facilities in Utah and on an island in the Pacific.

Some nervous residents say that the planned disposal poses a clear danger as the Anniston plant is located in the centre of town. Others say they may be exposed to long-term, low dose exposure to the toxins.

Army tries to calm residents
 
Still, the army say the operation poses a minimal risk.

“We know it is a proven technology and we can safely destroy weapons,” Michael Abrams, the Army's public affairs officer for the Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, told Reuters.

The Army's stockpile in Anniston includes about 2,000 tons of rockets, artillery shells and land mines, loaded with sarin, VX and other nerve agents.

There have been a number of small leaks at the stockpile over the past two decades.

Local environmentalists to seek an injunction against the proposal at a Washington court Monday.