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Report Could Pave Way for Detonating Blue Grass Mustard Shells

Initial findings from an analysis of nearly 100 blister agent-filled munitions at the Blue Grass Army Depot seem to support the case for using explosives to eliminate the Kentucky's site's mustard rounds, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported on Wednesday (see GSN, June 15).

A neutralization plant is being built to eliminate all chemical weapons stored at the Army installation. The site holds roughly 15,400 mustard agent shells, which make up 15 percent of its total stockpile of chemical warfare materials.

Other demilitarization plants around the country have found that mustard agent can congeal into a hardened "heel" that can be time consuming and dangerous to extract from weapons or bulk containers during the disposal process.

X-rays taken of 96 randomly selected mustard rounds at Blue Grass revealed that 85 percent had a minimum of 30 percent congealment, according to U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency official Rusty Fendick. They could be indicative of the entire stockpile. Munitions deemed too dangerous for neutralization could instead be eliminated in a specialized detonation chamber.

"The preliminary data shows that the mustard rounds are in a condition that is very likely to require an alternative approach to the main facility," said Craig Williams, head of the nongovernmental Chemical Weapons Working Group. "We have a little further to go to make that determination."

With the information available now, "it's reasonable to assume" that the mustard munitions would be detonated and not neutralized, Williams said.

Reducing to the greatest extent possible the degree of contact personnel have with chemical toxins is a "cardinal rule," Blue Grass Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant project manager Jeff Brubaker said.

The initial X-ray findings shared on Tuesday will not impact work on the destruction plant, which is already more than two-fifths complete.

A final analysis on the X-rays is to be issued next Month (Greg Kocher, Lexington Herald-Leader, Sept. 14).

Note to our Readers

GSN ceased publication on July 31, 2014. Its articles and daily issues will remain archived and available on NTI’s website.

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