The US Army announced plans to start operations in a $4.5 billion plant, designed to destroy the largest stockpile of mustard gas in the US. This is in compliance with an international treaty banning chemical weapons.
The plant, located at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in southern Colorado, is largely automated. The task will begin with destroying about 780,000 chemical-filled artillery shells.
Robots will take the shells apart, and the plant will use water and bacteria to neutralize the gas. This terrifying weapon, made famous first in the trenches of WW1 a century ago, can maim and kill by damaging the skin, the eyes, and airways.
When the plant reaches full capacity, it will be able to decommission 500 shells per day.
The depot has already destroyed 560 shells and bottles of mustard gas that were leaking or had other problems. The shells were placed in a sealed chamber, opened with explosive charges and neutralized with chemicals. That system has a capacity of four to six shells per day.
The Pueblo Depot has shells containing 2600 tons of mustard agent. Their destruction is to comply with a 1997 treaty.
Irene Kornelly is the chairwoman of citizen’s advisory committee that serves as a liaison between the public and the plant operators. She said that her group had no further safety concerns.
The Army has another 523 tons of mustard and nerve agents stored at Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. Blue Grass is expected to destroy their weapons next year.