HUNTSVILLE, Alabama--A Kentucky facility designed and built to destroy chemical weapons is set to begin operations within the next several weeks.
The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) held a public event May 29 at the Armed Forces Reserve Center in Richmond, Kentucky to commemorate the start of chemical agent destruction operations.
Hundreds attended the event, which featured Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the keynote speaker.
“I offer my sincere thanks to the operators, technicians, maintenance staff, construction workers and the many others whose stewardship of this dangerous stockpile has helped us avoid disaster,” McConnell said.
Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, Department of Defense and industry leaders also provided remarks.
“The start of operations for the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant is a milestone not only for Kentucky, but also for the entire country, as we honor our commitment to safely and completely destroy our stockpile of chemical weapons,” Bevin said.
BGCAPP will destroy a chemical weapons stockpile stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot.
Mustard agent munitions will be destroyed in the Explosive Destruction Technology facility using a static detonation chamber, while nerve agent munitions will be destroyed in the main plant using neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation.
Construction of the Blue Grass plant began in 2006. The plant uses a supercritical water oxidation process to destroy nerve agents supplemented by a static detonation chamber used to destroy 15,000 mustard gas 155 mm projectiles.
As the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ agent for facility design and construction of all chemical demilitarization facilities, Huntsville Center has a long history building the facilities used to destroy chemical weapons.
In 1981, the U.S. Army Toxic and Hazardous Material Agency requested the support of the then Huntsville Division to assist with construction of the plants, starting with a project at Johnston Atoll.
Through three decades Huntsville Center assisted with designing and constructing chemical weapons destruction facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Maryland, Oregon and Utah.
Boyce Ross, director of engineering at the Center, saw the chemical demilitarization program become one of the largest and longest-running programs supported by the Huntsville Center.
Ross’ engineering career with the Corps of Engineers started with the chemical demilitarization program in the 1980s. He was part of the team that oversaw construction of the Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility at Pine Bluff Arsenal, Arkansas.
“Building chemical demilitarization plants involved much more than the Center’s workforce growing hazardous materials expertise,” Ross said. “We expanded our capability for complex design and procurement as well.”
As operations begin at Blue Grass and continue at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant in Colorado, the mission to destroy the last of the nation’s chemical weapon stockpile will be complete.
Although most Huntsville Center employees recognized their role in the chemical disposal program substantially ended in 2014, the Center formally ended its chemical demilitarization construction mission with completion of the Blue Grass facility in 2015.
Soon after construction was complete at Blue Grass, the Center’s Chemical Demilitarization Directorate became the Chemical Demilitarization and Defense Threat Reduction Program under the Center’s Ordnance and Explosives Directorate.
“We still have a role in the process,” Ross said. “Although our chemical demilitarization program sunset with operations beginning at Blue Grass and ongoing operations at Pueblo (Pueblo Chemical Agent Pilot Plant at U.S. Army Pueblo Depot, Colorado), we’re still supporting operations at the two facilities on an as-needed basis, advising on engineering components during operations or making adjustments during operational testing,” Ross said.
Looking back at the work accomplished by the Center’s chemical weapons disposal program, Ross said the employees and retirees who worked on the program should all be very satisfied with the work they did to destroy the nation’s chemical weapon stockpile.
“Huntsville Center employees had a major role in the destruction of these weapons of mass destruction determined too inhumane to use in war, and too dangerous to store,” he said.
“Thousands of people spent hundreds of thousands of man-hours developing large-scale engineering and construction projects that fulfilled international obligations and made the world a better, safer place. We should all be extremely proud of the work we accomplished.”
The Blue Grass Chemical Activity, a tenant of the 15,000-acre Blue Grass Army Depot, is responsible for the safekeeping of the portion of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile.
The depot, located near Richmond, provides conventional ammunition services, chemical defense equipment management and manufacturing capabilities.