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Army Agency Wraps Up Chemical Weapons Disposal Campaign

Workers on Jan. 11 prepare for destruction the final mustard agent munitions at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah. The The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency on Saturday concluded its mission to eliminate 90 percent of the nation's stockpile of chemical warfare materials (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo). Workers on Jan. 11 prepare for destruction the final mustard agent munitions at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah. The The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency on Saturday concluded its mission to eliminate 90 percent of the nation's stockpile of chemical warfare materials (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo).

The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency on Saturday concluded its full demilitarization campaign when the last amount of lewisite blister agent was incinerated at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah, bringing an end to a mission that spanned more than two decades and seven installations (see GSN, Jan. 19).

The Army agency was charged with eliminating 89.75 percent of the United States' declared chemical arsenal under the Chemical Weapons Convention, according to a CMA press release. 

"Completing destruction of this stockpile mission is a worthy and important accomplishment. This demonstrates our commitment to the elimination of chemical weapons, enhancing safety and security for our work force, our communities and the nation," Army Secretary John McHugh said in released comments.

The Chemical Materials Agency oversaw the destruction of 27,473 tons of blister and nerve agents and associated munitions stored at seven depots in Deseret, Utah; Johnston Island in the Pacific; Aberdeen, Md.; Newport, Ind.; Umatilla, Ore.; Anniston, Ala.; and Pine Bluff, Ark. Roughly 891 tons of material had previously been eliminated prior to the 1997 entry into force of the international accord that prohibits the development, production, stockpiling or use of chemical weapons.

"The safe destruction of more than 2.2 million chemical nerve and blister agent munitions and bulk containers at seven demilitarization facilities is a remarkable accomplishment for the CMA work force at each site and systems contractors who operated each facility," Army acting Assistant Secretary Heidi Shyu said in provided remarks.

The Army estimated it will spend roughly $28 billion on the CMA mission, which includes construction, preparation, operation and disassembly of plants at all seven installations, agency spokesman Greg Mahall stated by e-mail on Tuesday.

The remaining 10 percent of U.S. chemical weapons is housed at two depots in Pueblo, Colo. and Blue Grass, Ky. Destruction of those two stockpiles will be managed by another Army branch, the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program, and is not anticipated to be completed before 2021. The Chemical Materials Agency said it would work with ACWA officials in sharing "the lessons learned" over the course of its 22-year disposal mission.

The United States has announced it will not meet the April 29 deadline established by the CWC accord to complete all chemical disarmament work. Fellow convention signatories Russia and Libya have also declared they will miss the cutoff date (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency release, Jan. 23).

"This important disarmament milestone is a major step towards complete, verified, and global abolition of a whole class of weapons of mass destruction, with the United States leading the way," Global Green USA security and sustainability chief Paul Walker wrote in a blog post for the organization. 

An earlier deadline called for the United States and other CWC signatories to destroy all of their chemical warfare materials by April 2007. However, that cutoff date proved untenable for all chemical armed-nations, which received extensions of up to five years. Albania, India and South Korea have now completed their disposal operations.

Moscow has said it will complete chemical demilitarization work by 2015. The new government in Libya has yet to announce when it anticipates wrapping up its mission, but it retains a vastly smaller quantity of chemical agent than either Russia or the United States (see GSN, Jan. 20).

"The complete elimination of chemical weapons, verified by international inspectors, over the next decade, will be a major step forward to the larger goal of abolishing all weapons of mass destruction -- nuclear, chemical, and biological -- from the globe," Walker said (Paul Walker, Global Green USA, Jan. 23).

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