The Blue Grass Army Depot and Blue Grass Chemical Activity conducted a media day last week where information concerning the types of chemicals stored at the facility, the measures to be taken for demilitarization of the chemical weapons stockpile and other functions of the facility was provided for news agencies from Central Kentucky.
As the only county with borders that meet up directly with the depot, the information released is particularly vital for Estill Countians. Since the 1940s chemical weapons have been stored at BGAD and since the 1960s lethal nerve agents have been stored.
According to a leaking munitions history provided by BGCA, for the first seven months of 2011 there has been no leakage of chemical weapons at BGAD. The chart details the total number of leaks each year since 1983 as well as breaking down the number to show which types of chemicals leaked at the facility in that year.
Currently three types of chemicals are stored at the facility including two nerve agents and one blistering agent. The nerve agents, referred to as Nerve Agent VX and Nerve Agent GB, are described as a “rapid-acting, lethal nerve agent that affects the nervous system by interferring with the signals sent from the brain to the vital organs and other parts of the body.”
The third chemical, referred to as Mustard Agent, can cause “inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat, trachea, bronchi and lung tissue and blisters the skin.”
The VX nerve agent is considered the most dangerous of the chemicals stored at the BGAD and there have never been reported leaks of this chemical. However, there have been leaks of the GB nerve agent and the mustard agent nearly every year since 1983. In only 1997 and 2004 were there no reported leaks of the munitions.
In 1992, the highest number of leaks were reported at 24. However, since 1994, there have been less than 10 leaks reported on a yearly basis.
Because leaks have the potential to be dangerous, extreme precautions are taken to ensure the safe storage, and eventually destruction, of the chemical weapons stockpile.
According to the BGCA, “all weapons are stored securely in earth-covered bunkers called igloos. Designed specifically to protect their contents from external factors such as storms, lightening and other weather-related events, the igloos are equipped with a rear vent and dual lightening protection system. Aside from a 24/7 guard force, there are a number of other physical and electronic safeguards that protect this stockpile.”
To date there are nine chemical weapon stockpiles in the United States. There are 4,752 tons of nerve and blister agents remaining in the U.S.
Each of these nine facilities is in some stage of demilitarization of its chemical weapons. Four facilities located in Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland and off the coast of Hawaii have completed operations. Facilities in Oregon and Alabama are expected to be demilitarized by the end of this year. A facility in Utah is to be completed by 2012 and another in Colorado by 2017.
The Richmond facility will be the last to complete demilitarization. Construction of the plant for demilitarization has begun and operations are expected to be complete by 2021.
The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant is designed to “safely and efficiently neutralize the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile.” Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass has been contracted since 2003 to design, construct, test, operate and “ultimately close this facility.”
According to information provided by BGCA, “the U.S. Department of Defense selected neutralization followed by Supercritical Water Oxidation, as the method of destruction.” This process includes disassembling the munitions, separating components of the chemicals and decomposing or neutralizing the agents using water hydrolysis.
Following the completion of the demilitarization, the pilot plant will be decontaminated and dismantled.
Once the pilot plant and demilitarization is completed the BGAD will continue with its other missions. In fact, apart for the BGCA aspect of the BGAD, there are several other operations taking place at the depot.
These missions include supplying munitions, chemical defense equipment and Special Operations support to the Department of Defense.
For more information concerning the BGAD or BGCA, contact the outreach office at (859) 626-8944 or firstname.lastname@example.org.