Workers have destroyed more than 75% of the mustard gas weapons stored at the Army's Pueblo Chemical Depot, and the facility is on schedule to close by the end of 2023, leaders there said in a news release.
The storage site, located about 20 miles east of Pueblo, is one of two facilities left in the United States with chemical munitions and chemical material.
Workers with the automated Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant team have labored to destroy the mortar rounds and artillery shells loaded with the mustard agent since March 2015.
“The destruction of more than 75% of the mustard agent is a tribute to the enduring hard work and dedication of the men and women ...,” said Walton Levi, site project manager at the plant. “While we still have much work ahead of us, this achievement demonstrates our continued commitment to the international community to safely eliminate all chemical weapons in the U.S. inventory.”
Since the early 1950s, the depot has stored three munition types: 155mm projectiles, 105mm projectiles and 4.2-inch mortar rounds. As of June 25, 1,953 tons of mustard agent weapons had been destroyed at the depot, according to a press release.
“For decades the depot has ensured these weapons remain safe and secure prior to their destruction,” said Col. Jason Lacroix, Army commander of the Pueblo Chemical Depot, who began his command on June 24.
The Pueblo Chemical Depot and the Blue Grass Army Depot south of Richmond, Ky. — which has mustard and nerve agents — are destroying chemical weapon stockpiles under an international treaty, with a congressionally mandated deadline of the end of 2023.
“Many challenges were overcome by a great team whose innovative thinking and perseverance got us to this point,” said Ken Harrawood, project manager for Bechtel Pueblo, the contractor charged with closing the site. “We have more than 1,600 workers who keep this facility operational on a daily basis, which has been a huge accomplishment especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
At the Pueblo Depot, robots rip open shells and wash away chemical agents. Mustard agent molecules are neutralized with hot water and a caustic solution, resulting in a common industrial chemical that is readily biodegradable.
Chambers that use explosives to destroy the munitions are scheduled to become operational this year to rid the site of problematic munitions that can't be run through the robotic plant, including some 4.2-inch mortar rounds.
The elimination of all chemical weapons is the Army’s final mission at the Pueblo Chemical Depot, which spans approximately 23,000 acres.
Nearly 16,000 acres of the site was declared surplus federal property in 2013 and a local redevelopment authority, PuebloPlex, is looking at possible industrial uses. The site has more than 5 million square feet of facilities including more than 125 buildings and warehouses, 620 partially buried storage igloos, 137 miles of paved roadways and more than 40 miles of rail.