On the surface, it looked like one of those notices that was bound to turn out concerned environmentalists and peace activists.

The Army announced, in the July 9 Federal Register (page 35542) that it will not prepare an environmental impact statement for a $23 million facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas that will build the conversial new binary chemical artillery shell for the 155-mm howitzer.

The "Finding of No Significant Impact" (whose Army acronym, happy days, is FONSI) was determined after the holding a public hearing in Pine Bluff, and a review of written comments.

The first reason for the FONSI was that no local critics came forward at the public hearing.

And second, other potential critics were silent because the very thing that makes the new shell appealing to the Army, its binary construction, makes it less environmentally risky than older, decaying chemical weapons.

The binary shell holds two separate, non-lethal chemicals that produce a dealy gas when mixed. The mixing, however, doesn't take place until the shell is actually fired.

Pine Bluff, in fact, will only produce one of the chemicals and place it in a hermetically sealed canister in the 155-mm shells.

The other chemical will be produced at another facility and will not be inserted into the shell until needed on the battlefield.

If opponents are going to try to halt the new push toward chemical weapons, they'll apparently have to do it on the pros and cons of the weapons, themselves, not on the damage they could do to the environment.

While we're talking about such matters, back in 1972 the Environmental Protection Agency canceled several pesticides that were used to kill predators. But now "sheep and cattle ranchers have contended that they are suffering undue losses" from coyotes and feral dogs, and have asked for an exemption, according to the July 2 Federal Register (page 34698).

The National Woolgrowers Association and the National Cattlemen's Association have asked EPA to permit the use of a new device -- a poisonous collar, worn by lambs and calfs, and made from one of the barred pesticides, "compound 1080." The device would have no effect on the animal wearing it, but any predator that attacked its throat would swallow the poison and die.

Back before the 1972 ban, farmers put the carcasses of dead horses out in areas where coyotes and wild dogs were killing their sheep and cows and hid "compound 1080" in the carcasses. The problem was that this kind of non-selective use of the pesticide resulted in the deaths of other, non-predator animals and even birds of prey. It was this reason, in the then heady early days of environmental concerns, that led EPA to cancel the use of "compound 1080" without any complaint from tis manufacturers or the farmers and ranchers who used it.

Sheep and cattle losses have led to a search for new ways to deal with predators. With the development of the new toxic collar, EPA is being petitioned to permit "emergency use" of the pesticide.