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Army destroying last chemical weapons in Utah cache

January 19, 2012 |  6:00 am

Army destroying last chemical weapons in Utah cache

At 2:11 p.m. Wednesday, a tray carrying 23 projectiles packed with mustard agent was removed from a 1,500-degree furnace at a U.S. Army facility in Utah. The two-hour process stripped the mustard agent of its toxicity -- its ability to blister the skin and attack the respiratory system.

And with that, officials celebrated the destruction of the last hard weapons at the Deseret Chemical Depot, which once housed the Army’s largest cache of chemical agents.

By the end of the week, when officials burn the last of the depot’s skin and lung irritant, the Army will have destroyed about 90% of its chemical weapons, the Associated Press reported. It could take until 2021 to rid depots in Colorado and Kentucky of the final 10%.

Although the U.S. will miss an April 29 deadline to dispose of all its chemical weapons, as it vowed to do under an international treaty, it’s further along than other nations that have signed on. Russia, for example, has destroyed about half of its stockpile, the AP said.

Disposing of chemical weapons is a delicate task. For decades, the depot near Tooele, Utah, burned toxins in the open air, the Salt Lake Tribune reported. In the 1970s, chemical incineration was halted while researchers figured out more environmentally sound methods.

Since weapons destruction resumed in 1996, the remote depot has rid itself of 1.1 million munitions and 13,600 tons of chemical agents.


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Photo: Becky Webster positions a container filled with 170 gallons of nerve gas onto a pallet at the Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele, Utah, in 2001. This week, the depot is destroying the last of its toxins. Credit: Douglas C. Pizac/Associated Press