Contributed photo 

Two operators work together to place one of the last overpacked 8-inch projectiles containing nerve agent into a tray to begin the destruction process at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant May 9. The last GB 8-inch projectile was destroyed May 11, marking the complete destruction of an entire type of chemical weapon.

Despite a global pandemic, the Blue Grass Chemical Activity Pilot Plant made history when they destroyed all 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent May 11, roughly a month ahead of schedule.

This marks the completion of the first munitions campaign for the project and the first time in history a campaign has been completed early across all nine of the former locations to store and destroy agents.

“If there is one thing I can stress it is really just how proud I am of our team,” Candace Coyle, BGCAPP site project manager, told The Register. “In the midst of a pandemic we were able to preserve our workforce and preserve the mission and we got done early. This is one step closer to meeting our national treaty.”

In January, the first nerve agent destruction operations began at the plant, located on the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) according to a press release.

Under the observation of trained operators, automated equipment disassembled nearly 4,000 munitions and drained the chemical agent. The agent was neutralized by mixing it with water and caustic to produce hydrolysate. After the agent was confirmed destroyed by laboratory analysts, the hydrolysate was pumped to holding tanks to await the supercritical water oxidation process.

Remaining metal parts from the munitions were thermally heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and sent for recycling.

The 8-inch projectiles contained a total of more than 28 tons of chemical agent. The stockpile at BGAD originally consisted of approximately 523 tons of chemical agent configured in 155mm projectiles containing mustard and VX nerve agent, 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent, and M55 rockets containing GB and VX nerve agent.

As the processing is being done, this has also been significant to the plant, as it makes them also the first to destroy two different weapons simultaneously.

In June 2019, the Static Detonation Chamber, an explosive destruction technology, began destroying the mustard stockpile. The mustard campaign is more than 35% complete. As of May 1, a total of more than 57 tons of chemical agent have been destroyed in Kentucky.

“Our team safely completed this campaign ahead of schedule, even during a pandemic,” said Ron Hink, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) project manager. “From here, the men and women of BGCAPP will turn their attention to making equipment adjustments to begin the next munitions campaign.”

Coyle said when the coronavirus pandemic hit Madison County, the plant and Blue Grass Army Depot were on top of safety regulations with the rigorous safety that comes with the territory.

From extensive personal protection equipment, disinfecting their offices on an hourly basis and social distancing regulations, the group was working to adhere to CDC guidelines.

“That is one thing I am very proud of,” she said. “There were no safety or incidents and it went very smoothly. I am happy to report there are no COVID cases at the site.”

Several changeovers will take place now as well as decontamination to be able to process the next munitions.

“We have an amazing work force down here I could not be prouder and what we are doing for the nation and for the county by making it safer here by not having these weapons,” Coyle said.

Reach Taylor Six at 624-6623 or follow her on Twitter at @TaylorSixRR.

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