The safety and security of the United States’ chemical weapons stockpile is of utmost concern to people the world over, even during its disposal. To this end, the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) rigorously supports the United States’ compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
The CWC prohibits the production and use of chemical weapons, as well as mandating the destruction of all existing chemical weapons. Destruction activities are verified on site by inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
To verify the type of agent being destroyed, liquid samples will be removed from selected munitions/items and analyzed in the laboratory. In the main plant, the agent cavities are mechanically accessed, allowing samples to be taken. However, the type of Explosive Destruction Technology (EDT) selected to destroy Blue Grass mustard agent-filled munitions does not allow for access to the munitions’ agent cavities to retrieve samples.
To meet the CWC treaty requirement for agent verification, BGCAPP, with the support of other organizations, has developed a process for agent sampling that fully complies with the CWC treaty. A one-time sampling operation, conducted 4-6 weeks prior to the end of BGCAPP EDT operations, is the plan approved by a specially formed working group.
The sampling effort will be carried out by a team from the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, or ECBC, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.
“We are looking forward to going back to Blue Grass in support of this work,” said Dennis Bolt, ECBC project manager. “We have supported other Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA) projects at the Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) in the past and enjoyed a good working relationship with the depot, the Blue Grass Chemical Activity and PEO ACWA.”
The sampling project is functionally similar to Operation Swift Solution, which ECBC conducted on behalf of PEO ACWA at BGAD in the 2008-2009 timeframe, when three deteriorating steel containers storing a mixture of GB (sarin) nerve agent and its breakdown products were safely eliminated.
“We will mobilize to the site, set up all of the necessary equipment and hardware, conduct an operational readiness assessment, conduct the sample operation, demobilize the site, and return to ECBC,” Bolt said. “At this point we do not see any operational issues or concerns; things are tracking on schedule and we are looking forward to a successful outcome for this work.”
An OPCW inspection team will randomly select munition(s) for agent-verification sampling each month of EDT operations. The munitions/items they select will be set aside for the one-time sampling operation. The OPCW Technical Secretariat approved this sampling approach in October 2014.
As with all other Blue Grass chemical-munitions interactions (e.g., monitoring or re-warehousing), this treaty sampling activity will be done in a safe, secure and environmentally protective manner to assure the greatest amount of protection to the workforce, the community and the environment, while fully maintaining the U.S. commitment to the CWC.