Anniston on Verge of Destroying Chemical Weapons Stockpile

(Sep. 19) -The last M23 VX land mine at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama is removed from a storage drum for destruction in 2008. The Anniston facility is due this week to complete the elimination of its chemical warfare stocks, which once included more than 660,000 shells and containers filled with lethal nerve and blister agents (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo).
(Sep. 19) -The last M23 VX land mine at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama is removed from a storage drum for destruction in 2008. The Anniston facility is due this week to complete the elimination of its chemical warfare stocks, which once included more than 660,000 shells and containers filled with lethal nerve and blister agents (U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency photo).

The Anniston Army Depot is scheduled this week to destroy the last vestiges of its decades-old stockpile of chemical weapons, the Anniston Star reported (see GSN, Sept. 9).

"I am relieved," Anniston Chemical Agent Disposal Facility site project manager Tim Garrett said of the milestone that has been more than eight years in the making for the installation. "And I'd say I'm proud."

The Anniston arsenal at one point held in excess of 660,000 shells and containers filled with deadly blister and nerve agents. Incineration of weapons and chemical agents began in August 2003. The depot is finishing up its final disarmament campaign -- the destruction of 3,000 aging mustard agent-filled munitions (Cameron Steele, Anniston Star, Sept. 18).

Anniston is soon to be the fifth of nine U.S. military installations that have finished destroying their stocks of chemical warfare materials.

U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency spokesman Greg Mahall said that by last month, the nation had eliminated 26,410 tons of chemical agents and was 88.3 percent of the way to full compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires the United States to eradicate its full arsenal by April 2012, the Deseret, Utah, News reported in late August.

All disposal plants managed by the Chemical Materials Agency are expected to complete disarmament activities close to the deadline. However, Washington has announced it would not meet the convention's schedule as two weapons depots in Colorado and Kentucky will not have begun their disposal operations by next April (Amy Joi O'Donoghue, Deseret News, Aug. 31).

Senator Mark Udall (D-Colo.) last month said he was open to allowing the Pueblo Chemical Depot a pass on a congressional mandate that requires all arsenal sites to be finished with demilitarization operations no later than 2017, the Pueblo Chieftain reported.

As a House lawmaker in 2008, Udall was involved in securing congressional passage of the 2017 mandate for both Pueblo and its sister site, the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. The Army's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program is in charge of munitions destruction work at both arsenals. It seems unlikely though, that either depot will meet the congressional mandate.

The Blue Grass arsenal for some time had not been expected to finish its disarmament campaign until 2021 due to the complexities involved in destroying 523 tons of mustard agent and VX and sarin nerve agents that are in varying stages of deterioration and stored in a variety of weapons (see GSN, June 22).

In June, the Defense Department advised that disarmament work at the Colorado site might not wrap up before 2019 due to unforeseen problems. The Pentagon also said the Kentucky depot could see its destruction schedule pushed back by two years.

During a visit to the Pueblo depot, Udall said he could accept the revised disarmament schedule "but with this caveat: You've got to be serous about safety and focused on destroying the weapons that are here. I'm going to keep addressing ways we can do that by 2017, but we've got to do this right" (John Norton, Pueblo Chieftain, Aug. 19).

September 19, 2011
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The Anniston Army Depot is scheduled this week to destroy the last vestiges of its decades-old stockpile of chemical weapons, the Anniston Star reported (see GSN, Sept. 9).