The Richmond Register

April 30, 2009

Depot holds nation’s last nerve agent stockpile

Ronica Shannon

The Blue Grass Army Depot is now the home of America’s remaining stockpile of nerve agent (VX and GB) after the Army’s Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) officials announced Tuesday the destruction of 60 percent of the nation’s declared stockpile under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).

“All of the sites that are currently operating still have agent left, but it’s a blister agent,” said Dick Sloan, spokesperson for the chemical activity operations at the depot.

All chemical weapon stockpiles throughout the U.S. have destroyed the nerve agent first because it is the most dangerous when compared to blister agent.

“We’re going to get rid of our nerve agent first, but we still have a ways to go,” Sloan said.

There is 523 tons of nerve and blister agents combined that remain at the depot.

“Although the risk to the American people has been reduced by 94 percent, the risk that we have here has not changed a bit,” Sloan said. “However, our record of safety in storage and monitoring (the chemical weapons) is outstanding, and we are committed to protecting our workers, the community and the environment from any harm from this stockpile. Safety is our motto and that is what we live by.”

Destruction of chemical weapons is complete at: Newport, Ind.; Aberdeen, Md.; and Johnston Island in the South Pacific.

Operations continue at the CMA’s remaining destruction sites in: Tooele, Utah; Umatilla, Ore.; Anniston, Ala.; and Pine Bluff, Ark.

The Blue Grass Army Depot and the depot in Pueblo, Colo., are the only areas where chemical weapons are still being stored.

“We have increased our efficiency at destroying the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile while maintaining the highest safety and environmental compliance standards,” said Conrad Whyne, CMA Director. “This accomplishment is the result of a true team effort between our storage and

destruction staff consisting of both government and contractor personnel, and I commend the dedication of the members of our highly skilled work force.”

The aging munitions at the depot have resulted in slight vapor leaks in the past and most recently, a nerve-agent-filled steel holding container leaked because of metal corrosion.

Although the weapons have been stored there from the 1940s on, the path to weapons destruction has by no means taken the fast track.

Approximately 93 percent of the plant’s design is completed.

It has previously been estimated that the depot’s chemical weapons will be destroyed between 2023 and 2024, depending on governmental funding.

In reaching the 60 percent destruction mark, CMA has also reduced the overall continued storage risk from the nation’s stockpiled chemical weapons by 94 percent.

“We’re so proud that this has gone so well with no accidents,” Sloan said. “It’s been a very safe program, and we’re really proud to be associated with it. We plan to keep that tradition.”

Ronica Shannon can be reached at rshannon@richmondregister.com or 624-6608.