REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. – The commander of the U.S. Army Engineering and Support Center, Huntsville, obtained a firsthand look Jan. 16 at the progress of chemical warfare materiel remediation on a portion of Redstone Arsenal.
Col. Marvin L. Griffin, Huntsville Center commander, conducted a walkthrough of RSA-051, which is among 17 sites in a broader mission to investigate and remove World War II-era chemical warfare materiel suspected to be buried there.
Huntsville Center’s Chemical Warfare Design Center, Ordnance and Explosives Directorate, is serving as executing agent.
“Visiting a site and discussing the program with those directly involved, at the point of execution, is essential to truly understanding what we do and why we do it,” Griffin said. “This helps me as the commander to better advocate for our employees and better support their efforts.”
The sites were identified by Alabama’s regulatory authority in 2010 for remediation as part of the federal government’s Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. This remediation includes investigation of these sites and, as a required interim measure, removal of any discovered chemical warfare materiel.
The ordnance in question originated from the U.S., Great Britain, Germany and Japan, and was at Redstone during and after the war for reworking and demilitarization. When the war ended, the goal of these operations shifted to ordnance disposal.
“After World War II, the approved practice for disposal of munitions and items like this was to bury them or to create trenches and pits and blow them up and then bury the remains – and it was an approved practice then,” said Ashley Roeske, project manager with Huntsville Center’s Chemical/Biological Warfare Materiel Division.
Since that time, however, the knowledge, analytical tools and sustainability practices for munitions disposal have greatly improved and expanded.
Starting in the late 1960s there was a renewed concern about the risk these disposal methods posed to the environment and to public health and safety. Since the 1990s, the U.S.’s policy on chemical weapons has been to eliminate all recovered chemical warfare materiel, according to a 2012 report from the Committee on Review of the Conduct of Operations for Remediation of Recovered Chemical Warfare Materiel from Burial Sites.
Griffin’s visit included observing site-specific training that teams are required to undergo before embarking on intrusive fieldwork. The training includes practicing with remote-controlled excavators on a nearby site mockup, and running through a variety of scenarios and decontamination procedures.
“I was incredibly impressed with the professionalism of our Huntsville Center experts and the contracted team,” Griffin said. “Their planning, preparations, and most importantly, their focus on safety certainly stood-out from my visit.
“We’ve been very proactive about considering every situation that we can possibly think of,” Roeske said. “So if we find something, that’s what we’re there to do, and we do have the contingencies in place to handle that.”
The safety measures in place are numerous, Roeske said, including continuous air monitoring for chemical agents, the full-time presence of an ordnance and explosives safety specialist, daily safety briefings, regular status updates to the site’s command post and strict accountability procedures.
The remediation effort for all 17 sites is expected to take more than 40 years and more than $500 million to achieve cleanup goals, she added.
Partnering with Huntsville Center and Redstone Arsenal are the 20th CBRNE Command’s Analytical and Remediation Activity; the Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Chemical Biological Center; Recovered Chemical Materials Directorate; and the Chemical Materials Activity’s Quality Assurance Specialist (Ammunition Surveillance); as well as the prime contractors.
Learn more about the Chemical Warfare Materiel Design Center at www.hnc.usace.army.mil/Media/Fact-Sheets/Fact-Sheet-Article-View/Article/2030190.