Army scrapping 4 US chemical weapons incinerators

Nov 16, 2013, 11:15 PM

ANNISTON, Ala. (AP) – The Pentagon spent $10.2 billion over three decades burning tons of deadly nerve gas and other chemical weapons stored in four states _ some of the agents so deadly even a few drops can kill.

Now, with all those chemicals up in smoke and communities freed of a threat, the Army is in the middle of another, $1.3 billion project: Demolishing the incinerators that destroyed the toxic materials.

In Alabama, Oregon, Utah and Arkansas, crews are either tearing apart multibillion-dollar incinerators or working to draw the curtain on a drama that began in the Cold War, when the United States and the former Soviet Union stockpiled millions of pounds of chemical weapons.

Construction work continues at two other sites where technology other than incineration will be used to neutralize agents chemically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the incinerator complex at the Anniston Army Depot _ where sarin, VX nerve gas and mustard gas were stored about 55 miles east of Birmingham _ the military this week said it’s about one-third of the way into a $310 million program to level a gigantic furnace that cost $2.4 billion to build and operate.

Tim Garrett, the government site project manager, said officials considered doing something else with the incinerator, but the facility was too specialized to convert for another use. Also, the law originally allowing chemical incineration required demolition once the work was done.

So teams are using large machines to knock holes in thick concrete walls and rip steel beams off the building’s skeleton, which was previously decontaminated to guard against any lingering nerve agents or mustard gas. Metal pieces are being recycled, and the rest will be hauled to an ordinary landfill.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Garrett, a civilian.

The military said the incineration program cost $11.5 billion in all, with the cost of tearing down the four facilities built in from the start.

A $2.8 billion incinerator is being demolished in Umatilla, Ore., the Pentagon said, and work will begin soon to tear down a $3.7 billion incinerator at Tooele, Utah. Workers already have finished demolishing the $2.2 billion Pine Bluff Chemical Demilitarization Facility in Arkansas, the military said. The site is being cleaned up and will close officially

While opponents of the incinerators predicted dire consequences and the possibility of floating clouds of nerve gas in the event of an accident, the CDC said no nearby residents were exposed to or harmed by chemical agents.

In east Alabama, before incineration work began in 2003, the military and emergency management workers spent millions of dollars distributing emergency kits to households, erecting warning sirens and reinforcing schools with ventilation systems to keep chemical weapons at bay during any accidents.

But Garrett said nothing worse than normal workplace injuries occurred by the time the last chemical weapons were burned in 2011.

“This place has the safety record of a library or a public school,” he said.

More than 660,000 artillery shells, small rockets and land mines were stored in dirt-covered bunkers at the Anniston depot beginning in 1963 during the height of the Cold War. The prospect of a major accident was frightening because more than 360,000 people lived in the surrounding four counties by the time the incineration ended.

Crates of munitions were loaded into special containers and trucked from the bunkers to the incinerator, where machines dismantled the weapons and burned the chemicals.

With the incineration complete, employment at the incinerator has dropped from around 1,000 workers at the apex of the project to around 220 today, Garrett said. It will drop to a skeleton crew once all the work is done by spring; the site is supposed to be closed completely by then.

“It’s been a career for us. A good career,” said Mike Abrams, who has been working on the Anniston incinerator project in community outreach and public affairs since it began.

Chemical weapons are outlawed by international treaty, and their destruction is a global concern. International efforts are underway to destroy Syria’s stockpile by next year. This week, Albania rejected a U.S. request to host the destruction of Syria’s arsenal.

Multiple domestic sites have destroyed chemical weapons, and the Army says it has destroyed 90 percent of the U.S. stockpile. Plants being built in Colorado and Kentucky will destroy most of the remaining U.S. cache with a chemical process to make it harmless. Facilities previously finished destroying weapons and were idled in Maryland, Indiana and Johnston Atoll, in the Pacific Ocean.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

United States News

FILE - The seal of the Board of Governors of the United States Federal Reserve System is displayed ...
Associated Press

Federal Reserve set to impose smaller hike could hint of fewer increases

The Federal Reserve is poised this week to raise its benchmark interest rate for an eighth time since March.
18 hours ago
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)...
Associated Press

President Biden announces COVID-19 emergencies to end May 11

President Joe Biden informed Congress on Monday that he will end the twin national emergencies for addressing COVID-19 on May 11.
18 hours ago
(AP File Photo/Geneva Heffernan)...
Associated Press

Valley woman among 3 killed in shooting at Los Angeles rental home

Three women, including one from Buckeye, were killed in a weekend shooting at a short-term rental home in an upscale Los Angeles neighborhood.
18 hours ago
(Arizona Department of Transportation photo)...
Associated Press

Should federal grants be in favor of highway repair over expansion?

Advocates for highway construction are concerned their projects are getting shortchanged in the competition for grant money under the new infrastructure law.
2 days ago
Demonstrators block traffic protesting the death of Tyre Nichols on January 27, 2023 in Memphis, Te...
Associated Press

Memphis police chief disbands unit responsible in beating of Tyre Nichols

The unit is composed of three teams of about 30 officers and had been inactive since Tyre Nichols' Jan. 7 arrest.
3 days ago
The image from video released on Jan. 27, 2023, by the City of Memphis, shows Tyre Nichols on the g...
Associated Press

Memphis authorities release video in Tyre Nichols’ death

Video showing Memphis officers beating a Black man was made public Friday after they were charged with murder in the death of Tyre Nichols.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Quantum Fiber

How high-speed fiber internet edges out cable for everyday use

In a world where technology drives so much of our daily lives, a lack of high-speed internet can be a major issue.
...
Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Prep the plumbing in your home just in time for the holidays

With the holidays approaching, it's important to know when your home is in need of heating and plumbing updates before more guests start to come around.
(Desert Institute for Spine Care photo)...
DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Why DISC is world renowned for back and neck pain treatments

Fifty percent of Americans and 90% of people at least 50 years old have some level of degenerative disc disease.
Army scrapping 4 US chemical weapons incinerators