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Deseret Depot Eliminates All Mustard Agent Containers

The Deseret Chemical Depot in Utah on Monday finished off its stockpile of bulk containers filled with mustard blister agent, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (see GSN, May 13).

"This has been a long time coming. This chemical agent has been around for a long time," depot spokeswoman Alaine Grieser said (Christopher Smart, Salt Lake Tribune, May 16).

The Utah site once housed 43 percent of the United States' chemical arms, more than any other storage facility, the Associated Press reported. The installation's Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility began destroying stockpiled chemical warfare materials in August 1996. In the last five years, the facility has incinerated 12.3 million pounds of mustard gas -- a blistering agent initially deployed by Germany in World War I.

Quantities of chemical warfare materials also remain at storage sites in Alabama, Colorado, Kentucky and Oregon. The Umatilla Chemical Depot in Oregon has begun burning its final 1,000 ton containers of mustard agent.

Once demilitarization operations are completed in Alabama, Oregon and utah, nine-tenths of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile will have been destroyed, Army Chemical Materials Agency spokesman Greg Mahall said. The depots in Oregon and Alabama are anticipated to finish operations no later than January (Lynn DeBruin, Associated Press/Alabama's 13, May 16).

"We have nearly reached our treaty obligations here through the effective teamwork of professionals dedicated to creating a safer tomorrow," Deseret depot commander Col. Mark Pomeroy said in a Deseret News report. "It has taken the commitment and expertise of not only toxic materials handlers but an integrated team of trained professionals to reach this milestone."

The Chemical Weapons Convention requires the United States to destroy all of its chemical arms by April 2012. However, Washington has acknowledged it will miss that deadline by a number of years as the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky and the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado will not have begun their destruction campaigns until after 2012 (see GSN, April 29).

Grieser said only 0.3 percent of the Utah site's original stockpile is left to be eliminated. The Tooele incinerator is now set to begin burning chemical agent waste products (Steve Fidel, Deseret News, May 13).

Some 350 deteriorating mustard shells and mortars at Deseret are slated to be eliminated using a contained detonation system in the next several weeks. Those weapons were determined to be too dangerous to destroy through incineration., Grieser told the Tribune.

"These munitions were aging; the canisters were deteriorating," she said.

A small quantity of the blistering agent lewisite and GA nerve agent that was captured from the Germans during World War II is also to be eliminated at Deseret over the next several months.

The last chemical munitions, including some filled with sarin and VX nerve agents, are anticipated to be eliminated no later than February (Smart, Salt Lake Tribune).

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