Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

November 17, 2013

Army scrapping four chemical weapons incinerators

ANNISTON, Ala. — 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.

 

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • Today in History for Friday, April 18, 2014

    Today is Good Friday, April 18, the 108th day of 2014. There are 257 days left in the year.

    April 18, 2014

  • Another arrest made in kidnapping

    Another arrest was made in the kidnapping of a North Carolina prosecutor’s father, federal investigators said Thursday.
    Quantavious Thompson was taken into custody late Wednesday afternoon, FBI spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said in a statement. Details on his arrest weren’t immediately available.

    April 18, 2014

  • Boston Marathon Bombi_Rich copy.jpg Questions linger year after Boston Marathon bombs

    A surveillance video shows a man prosecutors say is Dzhokhar Tsarnaev placing a bomb near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, just yards from where an 8-year-old boy was killed when it exploded.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP120401029 copy.jpg Today in History for Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Today is Tuesday, April 15, the 105th day of 2014. There are 260 days left in the year.

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Space Station_Rich copy.jpg NASA OKs space station visit despite dead computer

    NASA is pressing ahead with Monday’s planned launch of a supply ship despite a critical computer outage at the International Space Station, promising the situation is safe.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Fatal Shooting Kansas_Rich copy.jpg 3 dead after suburban Kansas City shooting

    A man opened fire outside a Jewish community center on Sunday, killing two people before driving over to a retirement community a few blocks away and killing someone else, authorities said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Seven Dead Babies Arr_Rich(1) copy.jpg Utah woman arrested after 7 dead babies found

    A Utah woman accused of killing several babies she gave birth to over 10 years was arrested Sunday after police discovered seven tiny bodies stuffed in separate cardboard boxes in the garage of her former home.
    Megan Huntsman, 39, who lived in the Pleasant Grove home until three years ago, had the infants between 1996 and 2006, investigators said.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP110714053482 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, April 14, 2014

    Today is Monday, April 14, the 104th day of 2014. There are 261 days left in the year. The Jewish holiday Passover begins at sunset.

    April 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Range Showdow_Rich copy.jpg Feds release cows gathered in Nevada roundup

    Federal land managers confirmed Saturday that they released all 400 or so head of cattle rounded up on public land in southern Nevada from a rancher who has refused to recognize their authority.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Ukraine_Rich copy.jpg Uniformed men occupy Donetsk police HQ

    Men in the uniforms of Ukraine’s now-defunct riot police on Saturday occupied police headquarters in Donetsk, the eastern city that is one of the flashpoints of a wave of pro-Russia protests, hours after armed men seized local police headquarters and a local branch of the Security Service in a nearby city.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

What you think about school and workplace rules about Facebook friends?

There have to be rules.
No need for rules, just use common sense.
If people want to be friends, what is the big deal?
Nobody uses Facebook anymore.
     View Results