The Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal has destroyed all of its VX nerve agent land mines.

The last of the weapons was destroyed Friday.

A simple message was written on the last VX mine as it rolled down a conveyor belt toward an incinerator — “LONG TIME COMING.”

With the destruction of the last VX land mine, Arkansas became free of deadly military nerve agent for the first time since the 1960s, when the weapons arrived at what was once the military’s second-largest stockpile in the nation.

The arsenal once held 9,378 VX land mines, containing 94,000 pounds of the nerve agent.

Now, mustard gas is only chemical agent remaining at Pine Bluff, according to the Army, and preparation for its destruction is underway.

Some 100,000 weapons containing 523 tons of chemical agent, including VX and GB nerve agent as well mustard gas, are stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond.

The weight represents less than 2 percent of the nation’s former stockpile, said Richard Sloan, spokesperson for the Blue Grass depot’s chemical activity.

The munitions include 155-millimeter and 8-inch artillery shells and 55-millimeter rockets, he said.

Unlike stockpiles in Arkansas, Alabama, Utah and other locations, poisonous agents store at the Kentucky depot and another near Pueblo, Colo., will be destroyed by chemical neutralization.

The international Chemical Weapons Convention calls for all nerve agent destruction by 2012.

Work to prepare the site and construct a destruction facility at the Blue Grass depot has begun, but funding and technical issues make 2017 the earliest the weapons stored here will be eliminated, Sloan said.

The treaty provides for a five-year extension of the original deadline.

The Pine Bluff Arsenal joins the Army’s Johnston Atoll arsenal, located 825 miles southwest of Hawaii, and its Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah in eliminating its VX stock.

In the process used at Pine Bluff, machinery removed a land mine’s explosive charge and tapped its VX chamber, vacuuming the chemical to an incinerator. The mine’s metal husk was then burned in a furnace at 1,000 degrees for 15 minutes.

“Those weapons have been eliminated and they are gone,” said Mark Greer, project manager for the Pine Bluff disposal effort. “Literally, they are history.”

However, traces of the nerve agent remain in the tanks that held the liquid until its incineration, said David Reber, URS’ general manager for the Pine Bluff cleanup.

“You can’t quite get down to the bottom of the tank,” Reber said. “We do some flushing and we treat that. That’s ongoing right now.”

Though mustard gas remains at the arsenal, it’s the first time the depot has been free from “weaponized” nerve agents — those held in rockets and mines. The remaining mustard gas sits in large tanks, meaning the risk likely is contained within the arsenal’s 13,000 acres, said Steve Lowrey, an executive with the Pine Bluff Chemical Activity office.

“There are no explosives associated with it like a weapon to help disperse it into the atmosphere,” Lowrey said. “The only thing you’d be looking at is evaporation from what would relatively be a minor leak. ... The actual area for most events would probably never leave post.”

That’s a change for an arsenal that once stored 3,850 tons of chemical weapons — 12 percent of the Army’s entire stockpile. For years, the military’s Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program had planned evacuation routes for surrounding counties.

Lowrey said officials will redraw those evacuation maps and orders in concert with state emergency management officials as the arsenal’s greatest threats have been destroyed. A spokeswoman for the state Department of Emergency Management said Monday she did not know how large the new radius of evacuation from the arsenal would be.

Reber said his company’s 725 employees running the chemical incineration would retool their operation to handle destroying the mustard gas, a process he said would take about three years. It would be another two years to take apart the operation and clean the area used to destroy the chemical weapons, a process that would last until “we go down and put in dirt and grass and all that,” Reber said.

At that point, Greer said those there will have “worked themselves out of a job.” But he stressed the importance of completing that job in Pine Bluff, as well as at the six other sites where Army stored the weapons.

“My predecessor kind of coined that phrase ... that there was no more noble project in the world today than eliminating chemical weapons from not just this area, but from society,” Greer said.

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