By Debbie Gregory.
The U.S. Army began destroying 2,600 tons of mustard agent at Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado. The nation’s largest remaining accumulation of chemical weapons is mostly contained in shells, and the Army used explosives to open the container inside a sealed chamber. The disposal process involves flooding it with another chemical to neutralize it.
Needless to say, extreme caution was exercised, making sure all the procedures were followed exactly. Mustard agent can maim or kill by damaging the skin, the eyes and airways.
Mustard agent was first used as a chemical weapon agent during the latter part of World War I, and caused injuries to a large number of soldiers. Many of them still suffered pain 30-40 years after they had been exposed, mainly as a result of injuries to the eyes and chronic respiratory disorders.
Mustard agent is a thick liquid, not a gas as commonly believed. It has no color and almost no odor, but it got its name because impurities made early versions smell like mustard.
The chemical munitions are being destroyed under a 1997 international treaty which bans all chemical weapons. It will take four years to destroy the Pueblo stockpile.
The Pueblo Chemical Depot isn’t the only one with a dangerous job at hand. In 2016 or 2017, another 523 tons of deadly nerve agents will be destroyed at Kentucky’s Blue Grass Army Depot. Blue Grass isn’t expected to finish until 2023.
The U.S. acquired 30,600 tons of mustard and nerve agents, but never used them in war. Nearly 90 percent of its original stockpile has already been destroyed, mostly by incineration.
Most of Pueblo’s stockpile will be dismantled and neutralized in a highly automated $4.5 billion plant built at the depot. Design and construction have taken years, and final testing and training are underway.
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Military Connection: Army Begins Disposal of Chemical Weapons: By Debbie Gregory