The US Prepares to Dispose of its Final Chemical Weapons, Marking the End of a Dangerous Legacy from World War I

by Gabriel Martinez
Chemical Weapons Destruction

In the midst of the verdant hills of eastern Kentucky, nestled within a broad military base, history is about to be made. A story tracing back to World War I, this marks a significant turn in warfare history.

The Blue Grass Army Depot personnel are on the brink of annihilating the last GB nerve agent-filled rockets, which make up the remnants of the United States’ reported chemical weapons. The impending demolition completes a several decades-long journey to eradicate a cache that, by the conclusion of the Cold War, summed up to more than 30,000 tons.

The destruction of these weapons signifies a significant milestone for the communities in Richmond, Kentucky and Pueblo, Colorado. The latter town witnessed the disposal of the final chemical agents at its Army depot last month. It’s a monumental event in the global efforts to control arms.

Kansas attorney general files a lawsuit to obstruct transgender individuals from modifying their driver’s licenses
North Carolina amusement park heightens inspections in the aftermath of a roller coaster fissure
Under the new tax cut signed by Evers, the average income tax in Wisconsin is expected to drop by $3 monthly
Six individuals have been accused in a purported straw donor scheme to aid Eric Adams’ election as New York City mayor

The U.S. is bound to a Sept. 30 deadline to dispose of its residual chemical weapons under the international Chemical Weapons Convention, which became effective in 1997 and is endorsed by 193 nations. The munitions being destroyed in Kentucky are the final among 51,000 M55 rockets, housing the deadly sarin toxin, or GB nerve agent. These weapons have been stored at the depot since the 1940s.

The annihilation of these weapons underlines the U.S.’s official stand against such warfare, sending a strong message to those few countries yet to adopt the agreement, according to military experts.

Kim Jackson, manager of the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, declared, “One of the aspects we’re really proud of is the successful completion of our mission. This signifies a permanent closure for the United States of America.”

Chemical weapons were first deployed in modern warfare during World War I, causing an estimated 100,000 casualties. Despite the Geneva Convention subsequently banning their usage, nations continued amassing these weapons until the treaty mandating their demolition was signed.

The Army Pueblo Chemical Depot in southern Colorado commenced the weapons’ destruction in 2016. By June 22, they had neutralized an entire stockpile of about 2,600 tons of mustard blister agent. The projectiles and mortars formed approximately 8.5% of the nation’s initial chemical weapons cache of 30,610 tons of agent.

The disposal of these weapons has eased the worries of civic leaders in both Colorado and Kentucky, who confess it was a lingering concern.

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar affirmed, “Even though those weapons posed no immediate threat, one couldn’t help but speculate about potential incidents involving them.”

A wave of opposition from the community surrounding Kentucky’s Blue Grass Army Depot emerged in the 1980s against the Army’s initial plan to incinerate the plant’s 520 tons of chemical weapons. This spurred a long-standing dispute over the disposal method. The citizens succeeded in thwarting the proposed incineration plant and, with legislative assistance, persuaded the Army to consider alternative disposal techniques.

Residents were worried about potential toxic pollution arising from burning these lethal chemical agents, according to Craig Williams, the lead voice of the community opposition who later collaborated with political leaders and the military.

Williams added that the Kentucky facility, being adjacent to Richmond and within a few dozen miles of Lexington, the state’s second-largest city, had an elementary school with over 600 students located just a mile away from the proposed incinerator.

The Kentucky depot, which had been storing mustard agent along with the VX and sarin nerve agents, mostly within rockets and other projectiles since the 1940s, completed its disposal plant in 2015 and began the disposal process in 2019. They used a process called neutralization to dilute these deadly agents for safe disposal.

Both Kentucky and Colorado’s communities have reaped significant benefits from these projects. As they brace for the eventual loss of thousands of workers, they are promoting the available pool of skilled laborers as an asset to companies considering settling in their regions.

At the Pueblo site, heavy machinery was used to slowly load the aging weapons onto conveyor systems. These led to secure rooms where robots remotely neutralized the toxic mustard agent, designed to cause skin blistering and inflammation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs.

These robotic systems also removed fuses and bursters from the weapons before the mustard agent was neutralized using hot water, mixed with a caustic solution to stop the reaction from reversing. The byproduct was further decomposed in large tanks filled with microbes, and the mortars and projectiles were decontaminated at 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit (538 degrees Celsius) and recycled as scrap metal.

Any problematic munitions that were leaking or overpacked were directed to an armored, stainless steel detonation chamber to be destroyed at about 1,100 degrees Fahrenheit (593 degrees Celsius).

The Colorado and Kentucky facilities were the last among several locations including Utah and the Johnston Atoll, where the nation’s chemical weapons had been stockpiled and destroyed. Other locations comprised facilities in Alabama, Arkansas, and Oregon.

Kingston Reif, an assistant U.S. secretary of defense for threat reduction and arms control, expressed that the destruction of the last U.S. chemical weapon “will conclude a significant chapter in military history, but one that we are eager to see closed.”

Officials declare that the removal of the U.S. stockpile is a significant stride for the Chemical Weapons Convention. Only three countries — Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan — have not signed the treaty, with Israel signing but not ratifying it.

Despite this, Reif noted concerns about undeclared chemical weapons stockpiles in certain countries that are part of the convention, particularly Russia and Syria.

Arms control advocates are hopeful that the U.S.’s final action could encourage the remaining countries to join the treaty and serve as a model for eliminating other types of weapons.

Paul F. Walker, vice chairman of the Arms Control Association and coordinator of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, noted, “It proves that nations can effectively ban a weapon of mass destruction. What’s needed is political will and a robust verification system.”

Reports were contributed by DeMillo from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Peipert from Pueblo, Colorado.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chemical Weapons Destruction

Where are the last of the US’s declared chemical weapons being destroyed?

The last of the U.S.’s declared chemical weapons are being destroyed at the Blue Grass Army Depot in eastern Kentucky.

What is the type of the chemical weapon being destroyed?

The weapons being destroyed are rockets filled with GB nerve agent, also known as sarin.

What is the significance of this action for the communities in Richmond, Kentucky and Pueblo, Colorado?

This action is a major milestone as both these communities had large chemical depots where weapons were stored. The destruction of these weapons eases long-standing concerns about potential hazards.

What is the Chemical Weapons Convention?

The Chemical Weapons Convention is an international treaty that took effect in 1997 and was joined by 193 countries. It mandates the elimination of an entire category of weapons of mass destruction by prohibiting the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons.

How are the chemical weapons being destroyed?

The weapons are destroyed through a process called neutralization, which dilutes the deadly agents so they can be safely disposed of. Problematic munitions are destroyed in an armored, stainless steel detonation chamber.

Which countries have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention?

As of now, only three countries — Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan — have not signed the treaty. Israel has signed but not ratified the treaty.

More about Chemical Weapons Destruction

You may also like


KentuckyResident July 7, 2023 - 5:48 pm

Living near Blue Grass, this makes me feel a lot safer. Thank god!

GreenEarth July 7, 2023 - 11:55 pm

bout time we stopped messing with these deadly weapons! Hope others follow suit.

PatrioticPaul July 8, 2023 - 2:06 am

We lead by example! U.S. making the world safer one step at a time…or should I say one weapon at a time. haha.

Sally1994 July 8, 2023 - 3:54 am

Wow, didn’t even kno we had these still. Good riddance!

HistoryBuff July 8, 2023 - 11:28 am

This marks an end of an era, dating back to WWI. Scary how long we’ve had these…

JoeM July 8, 2023 - 12:10 pm

so were finally gettin rid of those, eh? took em long enough…


Leave a Comment


BNB – Big Big News is a news portal that offers the latest news from around the world. BNB – Big Big News focuses on providing readers with the most up-to-date information from the U.S. and abroad, covering a wide range of topics, including politics, sports, entertainment, business, health, and more.

Editors' Picks

Latest News

© 2023 BBN – Big Big News