The first munitions containing VX nerve agent were destroyed at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) Jan. 10. This marks the third of five munition destruction campaigns to begin at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
“It has been 12 years since VX nerve agent has been destroyed in the United States chemical weapons stockpile,” said Dr. Candace Coyle, site project manager, BGCAPP. “This achievement is a tribute to the hard work, dedication and teamwork across the mission – from employees, partner organizations, community members and advisory groups, especially during a global pandemic.”
“This milestone marks another significant step in the total elimination of nerve agent at the Blue Grass Army Depot,” said Col. Stephen Dorris, depot commander. “I am confident that all safety and environmental compliance measures will be adhered to as professionals all work in tandem to successfully continue the mission, helping rid our nation and the world of these toxic, life-threatening agents from our past.”
Throughout the campaign, BGCAPP personnel will coordinate with the Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) on transportation of the projectiles to the plant.
“I am proud of our contribution to the successful start of the VX campaign,” said Lt. Col. Edward Williams, BGCA commander. “Our crews safely strapped and loaded the first VX projectiles for delivery to the plant, which marked the beginning of this operation. Our team is honored to be part of this historic milestone.”
The plant will destroy 155mm projectiles containing VX nerve agent through a process called neutralization. Automated equipment takes the munitions apart and drains the chemical agent. The agent is mixed with water and caustic to produce hydrolysate. The hydrolysate is tested by an on-site laboratory to confirm agent destruction. Remaining metal parts from the munitions are thermally heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to destroy any residual chemical agent and then are safely recycled.
“As always, safety is our top priority,” said Ron Hink, Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass project manager. “The team is ready to safely complete this next step in our mission to destroy Kentucky’s chemical weapons stockpile.”
The chemical weapons stockpile at the depot originally consisted of approximately 523 tons of chemical agent configured in 155mm projectiles containing H mustard or VX nerve agent, 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent, and M55 rockets containing GB or VX nerve agent. On May 11, 2020, BGCAPP completed its first destruction campaign by destroying all 8-inch projectiles containing GB nerve agent. In June 2019, the Static Detonation Chamber, an explosive destruction technology, began destroying the mustard stockpile. To date, more than 64% of the mustard agent has been destroyed. As of Jan. 1, 2021, more than 87 tons of chemical agent have been destroyed in Kentucky.
Operations at BGCAPP have continued throughout the COVID-19 pandemic while workers strictly follow additional safety protocols and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended guidelines.
The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives is responsible for destroying the remaining U.S. chemical weapons stockpile in Colorado and Kentucky. The organization oversees the contract for design, construction, systemization, operation and closure of BGCAPP with Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass and subcontractors Amentum, Battelle Memorial Institute and GP Strategies. The project employs more than 1,400 government and contractor employees.
The stockpile sites in Colorado and Kentucky account for the last 10% of what was originally a national stockpile of more than 30,000 tons of chemical weapons. The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity destroyed the initial 90%, which was stored at seven other sites across the U.S. and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific. Chemical weapons destruction in Colorado began in 2015. Both sites will complete destruction of chemical weapons by Dec. 31, 2023.