U.S. Concludes Disposal of Its Stated Chemical Weapons, Ending a Fatal History Stretching Back to World War I

by Gabriel Martinez
Chemical Weapons Destruction

The United States celebrated a pivotal moment on Friday, reaching a significant milestone in the lineage of warfare going back to World War I. This event took place within the confines of the Blue Grass Army Depot, an expansive military complex nestled in the lush green valleys of eastern Kentucky.

According to Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, the depot’s staff accomplished the destruction of rockets filled with GB nerve agent, marking the end of the declared chemical arsenal of the U.S. This achievement culminates a campaign spanning several decades to eradicate a cache that, at the climax of the Cold War, was more than 30,000 tons.

The completion of this operation symbolizes a significant victory for both Richmond, Kentucky, and Pueblo, Colorado. The latter saw its Army depot obliterate the final remnants of its chemical agents the previous month. This occurrence is a landmark in global arms control initiatives.


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The U.S. had an impending deadline of September 30 to eradicate its remaining chemical weapons, under the terms of the global Chemical Weapons Convention, which came into effect in 1997 with the participation of 193 nations. The armaments eliminated in Kentucky are the last of 51,000 M55 rockets with GB nerve agent — also known as the lethal sarin toxin — stored in the depot since the 1940s.

By annihilating these weapons, the U.S. is formally declaring that such armaments are no longer tolerable in conflict and sending a message to the few nations yet to join the agreement, say military specialists.

Kim Jackson, manager of the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, expressed pride in how the mission was completed, stating, “We’re finishing it for good for the United States of America.”

Chemical weapons, first utilized in World War I, are believed to have caused at least 100,000 fatalities. Despite being subsequently banned by the Geneva Convention, countries continued amassing these weapons until a treaty demanding their destruction was put in place.

In southern Colorado, the Army Pueblo Chemical Depot commenced the destruction process in 2016, completing their mission on June 22. They managed to neutralize approximately 2,600 tons of mustard blister agent, stored inside projectiles and mortars which accounted for around 8.5% of the initial stockpile of 30,610 tons of agent in the country.

The elimination of these weapons eases a concern that has always been in the minds of community leaders in both Colorado and Kentucky.

Pueblo Mayor Nick Gradisar acknowledged that the weapons “were not a threat,” but added, “you always wondered what might happen with them.”

In the 1980s, the community near Kentucky’s Blue Grass Army Depot opposed the Army’s initial incineration plan, leading to a decades-long debate on disposal methods. They successfully prevented the incineration, leading to a search for alternative destruction methods, particularly given the depot’s proximity to populated areas.

The chemical weapons disposal operation, while concerning, has provided both communities with an influx of high-skilled workers. Both are marketing this labor pool to potential businesses looking to set up in the region.

At the Pueblo site, workers used heavy machinery to carefully load aging weapons into conveyor systems. These led to secure rooms where remote-controlled robots handled the hazardous work of eliminating the toxic mustard agent.

The last of the U.S. chemical weapons being destroyed “will close an important chapter in military history,” says Kingston Reif, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Threat Reduction and Arms Control, while expressing relief at the impending closure.

Only three countries — Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan — have yet to sign the treaty, with Israel having signed but not ratified it. Concerns remain over undeclared chemical weapon stockpiles, particularly in Russia and Syria.

Yet, advocates of arms control hope this final step by the U.S. could encourage the remaining countries to join, and even serve as a model for eliminating other weapon types.

Paul F. Walker, vice chairman of the Arms Control Association and coordinator of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, said, “It shows that countries can really ban a weapon of mass destruction. If they want to do it, it just takes the political will and it takes a good verification system.”

DeMillo filed this report from Little Rock, Arkansas, and Peipert from Pueblo, Colorado.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Chemical Weapons Destruction

Where did the final destruction of U.S. declared chemical weapons take place?

The final destruction of U.S. declared chemical weapons took place at the Blue Grass Army Depot in eastern Kentucky.

When was the deadline for the U.S. to eliminate its remaining chemical weapons?

The deadline for the U.S. to eliminate its remaining chemical weapons, under the Chemical Weapons Convention, was September 30.

What type of nerve agent was last destroyed?

The last nerve agent destroyed was the GB nerve agent, also known as sarin, which was stored in M55 rockets.

How were the weapons destroyed?

The weapons were destroyed using a process called neutralization, which dilutes the deadly agents so they can be safely disposed of. In some cases, problematic munitions were destroyed in an armored, stainless steel detonation chamber.

Which countries have not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention?

As of the time of the report, Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan had not signed the Chemical Weapons Convention. Israel had signed but not ratified the treaty.

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HistoryBuff_123 July 8, 2023 - 5:43 am

A significant milestone in history! But we shldnt forget that there are still countries that have yet to sign the treaty…hopin they join soon.

Mike82 July 8, 2023 - 6:15 am

Just amazing news! Finally, those deadly things are history. It’s crazy to think they’ve been around since WWI. So glad for future generations.

Jenny_on_the_Block July 8, 2023 - 8:17 am

Wow, that’s huge… I mean, it’s hard to even comprehend the amount of destruction those weapons could cause… It’s great they’re gone.

Kenny_ProudAmerican July 8, 2023 - 5:02 pm

I didn’t even know we had those stuff still… Good riddance I guess. We should be focusing on building, not destroying.

JamesNoMoreWar July 8, 2023 - 7:41 pm

This is a historic day! hope other countries follow suit. Hats off to the workers who made this possible.


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