Destruction of deadly chemical agent sarin begins at Army depot in Kentucky

Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant workers place the first 8-inch projectile containing GB nerve agent in a tray to begin the destruction process in the Munitions Demilitarization Building in Madison County, Ky., on January 16, 2020.


By VALARIE HONEYCUTT SPEARS | Lexington Herald-Leader | Published: January 22, 2020

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Full-scale destruction of the deadly chemical agent sarin began last week at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Madison County, officials said Tuesday.

“This is another major milestone toward eliminating the total chemical weapons stockpile in Kentucky,” said Candace Coyle, Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant site project manager. “With each munition destroyed, we are making Madison and surrounding counties a safer place to live.”

The chemical weapons stockpile at Blue Grass Army Depot originally consisted of approximately 523 tons of chemical agent configured in 155mm projectiles containing H mustard and VX nerve agent, 8-inch projectiles containing sarin, and M55 rockets containing sarin and VX nerve agent. In June 2019, an explosive destruction technology began destroying the mustard stockpile. As of Jan. 10, more than 15 tons of chemical agents have been destroyed in Kentucky, a news release said.

The plant will destroy munitions containing sarin through a two-step process called neutralization followed by a method called supercritical water oxidation. 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 then pumped from tanks to reactors where it is subjected to high temperature and pressure. The resulting products are water, carbon dioxide and a salt solution. Remaining metal parts from the munitions are thermally heated to more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit and can be safely recycled, according to a news release.

“Our highly skilled team is dedicated to the task of safely destroying the chemical munitions,” said Ron Hink, a Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass project manager. “We’ve trained extensively for this stage of the project and we’re confident we can safely complete the mission.”

It is the first time a nerve agent has been destroyed in the United States in about a decade, officials said.

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. Both sites are scheduled to complete destruction of chemical weapons by Dec. 31, 2023, officials said.

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