Chemical weapons destruction reaches milestone

RICHMOND, Ky. (WTVQ) – The ongoing chemical weapons destruction program going on at the Blue Grass weapons depot in Richmond is on target to be completed by 2023, the federal government said Thursday as part of an update on chemical weapons destruction nationwide.

The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) mission is halfway complete, with a combined 1,568 U.S. tons of safely destroyed chemical agents in Colorado and Kentucky as of June 20, 2020, the program said in a release.

“We are at the halfway point in accomplishing the overall ACWA mission,” said Program Executive Officer Michael S. Abaie, PEO ACWA. “Reaching this milestone while successfully protecting workers, communities and the environment is a major accomplishment for the program. With each munition destroyed, the risk of continued storage is reduced.”

More than 2.5 million chemical munitions have been destroyed overall with approximately 615,000 munitions remaining, according to Abaie.

“The safe and environmentally sound destruction of approximately 95% of the original U.S. chemical weapons stockpile is an outstanding achievement for the U.S. Chemical Demilitarization Program,” said Dr. Charles J. Ball, deputy assistant secretary of Defense for Threat Reduction and Arms Control. “With each milestone we achieve, we are one step closer towards the goal of eliminating an entire class of weapons of mass destruction and fully meeting our Chemical Weapons Convention commitment.”

The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity (CMA) destroyed nearly 90 percent of the original U.S. chemical weapons stockpile by 2012, which was stored at six U.S. Army installations across the U.S. and on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific, according to the release.

The PEO ACWA program is responsible for destroying what was the remaining 10 percent of the stockpile located in Colorado and Kentucky.

“Each time we empty a storage igloo in Colorado and Kentucky is a testament to the dedication of the entire workforces and our partners to destroy these obsolete weapons,” said Col. Kelso C. Horne III, director of the Army’s chemical materials division.

The chemical materials division maintains the storage of chemical at the Blue Grass Army Depot near Richmond, Ky., and the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in Pueblo, Colorado.

“Our highly trained workforce’s implementation of strict safety procedures has resulted in meeting the ACWA mission halfway complete milestone,” said Walton Levi, site project manager of the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant.

Abaie said the combined efforts within the U.S. Chemical Demilitarization Program enabled the program to reach this milestone, with lessons learned from other chemical weapons subject matter experts and previous facility experiences.

PEO ACWA oversees contracts led by Bechtel National, Inc. at the Colorado site and a Bechtel-Parsons Joint Venture at the Kentucky site.

“The expertise of the Blue Grass workforce is responsible for the program’s success in meeting this momentous halfway milestone,” said Site Project Manager Dr. Candace Coyle at the Blue Grass Chemical-Agent Destruction Pilot Plant. “I am proud of the focused dedication from this team as we work to safely destroy these obsolete weapons and make the world a better place.”

Chemical stockpile destruction operations began in Colorado in March 2015 and in Kentucky in June 2019. Both facilities are on target to complete operations by 2023.

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