Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant Ordnance Technicians Billy Hodges and Anthony Garcia, Jr. inspect the first pallet of mustard agent-filled 105mm projectiles in the Agent Processing Building on Dec. 12 before advancing them to the next step in the destruction process. (Courtesy of Sandy Romero)

The Army Pueblo Chemical Depot has begun destroying 105 mm artillery shells containing poisonous mustard gas after finishing disposal of nearly 300,000 155 mm shells in September under an international arms agreement, according to a news release.

Mustard gas is described by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a “powerful irritant and blistering agent” that damages the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Its wartime use has been banned since the 1925 Geneva Convention.

The destruction of the chemical weapons stockpile is being done in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention, a multinational agreement to reduce the number of weapons of mass destruction worldwide.

“The 155 mm munitions destruction campaign was completed safely without a lost-time accident or incident,” project manager Ken Harrawood said in a statement.

The second stage involves about 380,00 105 mm shells carrying a total of 575 tons of mustard agent.

Each projectile must go through a strict disassembly and cleaning process, according to plant officials. The mustard agent is removed from the missile and put through a treatment process that eventually breaks it down into water, salts and other innocuous materials. The shell is washed with high-pressure water and heated to 1,000 degrees to burn off any residue.

Robots are used at several key points in the process, and the team is careful to adhere to COVID-19 protocols, according to plant manager Kim Jackson.

The final disposal phase will involve 4.2-inch mortar rounds, the third munition type stored at the depot. The weapons destruction, which began in March 2015, is expected to be completed by 2023.

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