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Army changes mind, won't ship waste from Pueblo Chemical Depot

Stockpiled chemical munitions are stored by two organizations that are part of the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity: The Pueblo Chemical Depot, Colo., and the Blue Grass Chemical Activity, located on Blue Grass Army Depot, Ky.

U.S. ARMY PHOTO

By PETER ROPER | The Pueblo Chieftain | Published: November 29, 2018

PUEBLO, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — Sometimes, losing your temper seems to do the trick.

Pentagon officials have scrapped their October plan to ship 250,000 gallons of contaminated water from the chemical demilitarization plant at Pueblo Chemical Depot to a Texas disposal site.

"We came down pretty hard on them and that seemed to fix the problem," Pueblo County Commissioner Terry Hart said Thursday. "We just met (with Army officials) this week and they've adjusted the plant process and it seems to be working."

Hart is a member of the local citizens advisory group that consults with Pentagon officials on the operation of the new Pueblo Chemical Agent Destruction Pilot Plant, which has the job of destroying more than 700,000 old mustard-agent weapons stored at the depot.

One of the by-products of that process is hydrolysate — water than is contaminated with low levels of chemicals from the neutralization process. The plant has had a start-and-stop track record since beginning operation and Pentagon officials have previously trucked off two shipments of hydrolysate to Texas, even though the Pueblo plant is designed to dispose of the water as well.

When officials from the Pentagon's Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternative program announced in late October that they intended to truck off another 250,000 gallons to Texas, the Pueblo citizens committee lost its temper at an Oct. 25 meeting.

"From Day 1, we've told you we don't like transporting (waste off site)," Hart sharply warned the program officials at that meeting. "We told you once you open that Pandora's box, transportation will become (your) preferred way to dispose of the hydrolysate and you've promised us repeatedly that wouldn't happen."

Hart wasn't alone. Other members of the local committee — Irene Kornelly, Velma Campbell and John Norton — made it clear they didn't find trucking an acceptable option. They urged program fficials to slow down the weapon-destruction process to a speed that didn't create a backlog of hydrolysate.

Apparently, that's what has happened.

Kornelly advised the advisory group in early November that Pentagon officials had cancelled the trucking plan and were looking at changing the plant operation to deal with the problem.

"That's why the citizens group is there and we pushed back," Hart said this week. "We're pleased the Army responded by taking our recommendation."

It took decades for Pentagon, state and local officials to reach agreement on building a water-neutralization plant at the Pueblo Chemical Depot for dealing with all of the old Cold War mustard-agent weapons stored there.

Early in the discussions, state and local officials insisted they didn't want old-fashioned incinerators built to burn-up the old weapons and didn't want any hazardous wastes trucked off the site.

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©2018 The Pueblo Chieftain (Pueblo, Colo.)
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