Three weeks into the new year, the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency (CMA) achieved a major milestone: safely eliminating more than 27 tons of nerve and blister agents. On Jan. 21, the final mustard agent-filled 155mm projectile was destroyed at the Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility in Utah, marking the completion of CMA’s stockpile destruction mission. While the Chemical Stockpile Elimination (CSE) mission eliminated nearly 90 percent of the chemical agent stockpiled in the United States since the 1960s, the remaining 10 percent will be eliminated by a DoD program, the U.S. Army Element Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA).
“This is a remarkable feat: the safe elimination of more than 2.2 million chemical nerve and blister agent munitions and bulk containers at seven demilitarization facilities around the Nation. We accomplished this mission with a strong workforce that was dedicated to meeting the milestone,”
CMA began destroying chemical munitions in an integrated, full-scale manner in 1990 at the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS), southwest of Hawaii. In 2000, this pilot facility completed its mission using high-temperature incineration. Four other CMA sites—at Anniston, AL; Pine Bluff, AR; Tooele; and Umatilla, OR—also used incineration to eliminate their stockpiles, while neutralization was used at Aberdeen, MD, and Newport, IN. Three of CMA’s sites—JACADS, Aberdeen and Newport—are closed. The remaining sites are in closure.
Commitment to Safety
Safety is CMA’s top commitment, as evidenced by the fact that five sites—in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Oregon, and Utah—earned Voluntary Protection Program Star status, the highest safety recognition issued by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Additionally, all sites track their recordable injury rate (RIR), which is often on par with occupations such as insurance, finance, and real estate. A perfect RIR of zero was achieved in 2010 at Pine Bluff.
“As teams worked around the country eliminating the chemical weapons stockpile, safety was always in the forefront—safety for the workers, the communities, and the environment,” said Carmen J. Spencer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Elimination of Chemical Weapons.
Projects and Partnerships
CMA’s two key missions were destruction and storage. While stockpile destruction under CSE is complete, CMA’s storage mission remains active at Pueblo, CO and Blue Grass, KY. CMA will keep those chemical weapons safe and secure until ACWA destroys them per congressional direction.
Another part of the CMA destruction team is the Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Project (NSCMP), responsible for assessing suspect chemical materiel when it is recovered and safely destroying it, if needed. NSCMP developed and uses the Explosive Destruction System (EDS), which provides safe, on-site neutralization and prevents the release of vapor, blast, or munition fragments. Operators sample the liquid and air to confirm that the chemical agent is completely neutralized before reopening the EDS. After confirmation of successful treatment, waste is put into 55-gallon drums, shipped to an approved disposal facility, and disposed of in accordance with applicable federal, state, and local laws.
NSCMP’s commitment to the environment is evident in projects such as one completed safely in July 2011. The team began decontaminating 4,307 ton containers (TCs) that, although empty, once held hazardous materials at Pine Bluff Arsenal. Decontamination eliminated possible residual chemical agent before recycling. While initial efforts to decontaminate the TCs involved several steps, CMA personnel eventually designed a magnetic induction heating process that decontaminated 10 containers simultaneously. The project resulted in more than 6.5 million pounds of recycled steel.
CMA’s NSCMP team also destroyed the Nation’s stockpile of binary chemical weapons in November 2007. These weapons, designed in the early 1980s, mixed two nonlethal chemicals that formed a chemical agent while in flight to a target. In December 2006, NSCMP completed demolition of former chemical warfare production facilities.
CMA works closely with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees treaty implementation. Treaty inspectors were on-site at the chemical weapons disposal sites to verify all stages of destruction. The OPCW inspectors also verify the stockpile inventory at least yearly.
Lastly, CMA manages the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP), a joint program of the U.S. Army and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. CSEPP provides funding, technical assistance, and equipment to the installations and off-post communities surrounding the chemical weapons stockpiles. As a result, these communities are among the best prepared in the country for any and all hazards.
“Our Nation is safer because we completed our mission to dispose of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile. We will now focus on our remaining missions, keeping safety as the cornerstone of our program,” said Barclay.
- From the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency.