The Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (PCAPP) in Colorado announced on Wednesday it had destroyed more than 220,000 US Army munitions containing weaponized mustard gas, amounting to more than half of the 2,600-ton US stockpile.
“This accomplishment is the result of the dedication and tenacity of the men and women who work at PCAPP,” site project manager Walter Levi said in a press release. “The PCAPP team overcame a variety of technical and operational challenges associated with a First-Of-A-Kind processing facility and these challenges were tackled head-on by our very capable, well-trained and experienced workforce.”
“With this milestone, we are well positioned to complete 100% mustard agent destruction by the congressionally mandated deadline of December 2023,” he noted. The facility is planning a community celebration in April for reaching the 50% mark.
According to local newspaper The Pueblo Chieftain, over the next year, the plant aims to transition to an operating permit from its current research, development and demonstration permit, a limited operation permit conditionally provided by the Environmental Protection Agency for one-year durations. It will also shift from destroying 155-millimeter artillery shells to 105-millimeter shells and start using its three Static Detonation Chambers for destroying 4.2-inch mortar rounds and related projectiles.
PCAPP and a related plant in Blue Grass, Kentucky, are operated by Bechtel Corporation. However, the company also built two dual-use petrochemical plants in Iraq for former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, which he used to build poison gas weapons to attack Iran as well as insurrectionary forces inside Iraq.
According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the mustard gas stockpile dates to World War II, when the US manufactured massive amounts of sulfur mustard and related noxious materials like lewisite, both of which can cause extensive blistering on the skin, blindness and damage to internal organs both by contact and by absorption into the body. Most fabrics will not protect against exposure.
The US began destruction of the roughly 175 million pounds of ordinary sulfur mustard and more than 9 million pounds of distilled, purified sulfur mustard in the years after the war, but retained a large stockpile through the end of the Cold War and up to the present day. However, the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention outlaws such stockpiles, compelling the US to destroy its chemical weapons under the watchful aegis of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. However, when Washington announced it was unable to meet the destruction deadline of 2012, it drew skepticism at home and abroad about the US’ willingness to adhere to the treaty.
Sputnik previously reported that destruction of the mustard gas shells involves disassembling the rusting shells with robots, then diluting the chemical with water and using special microbes to “eat up” the leftover chemicals, leaving a “salt cake” to be disposed of in a hazardous waste dump.
Likewise, the Blue Grass Army Depot’s Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Kentucky is in the process of destroying the US’ stockpile of the deadly nerve agents sarin and VX, containing roughly 101,000 projectiles.