One of Colorado’s leading citizens in public oversight of the chemical weapons being destroyed at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant recently addressed the international body overseeing the arms control treaty that bans them.
“There are very few people there actually representing communities where weapons are being stored and/or destroyed,” said Irene Kornelly, the chairwoman of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission since 2007. “And we bring a different perspective, because it’s happening right there in our community.”
Kornelly traveled to The Hague, Netherlands, in November to attend the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ 24th Conference of the States Parties, which governs the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, promoting the treaty’s objectives and reviewing compliance.
Kornelly’s presentations focused on the status of two locations, the Pueblo plant and Kentucky’s Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant, where the United States’ remaining chemical weapons stockpile is being eliminated. She highlighted the transparency at home and abroad and the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program’s commitment to destroying the U.S. stockpile safely by 2023.
“I try and stress that we’re doing this to protect the environment and the safety of the workers,” she said. “They are the people that we know. They are the people that we want to have come home every night.”
The global conference tackled issues like adding Novichok nerve agents to the CWC’s banned substances, investigating chemical attack reports in Syria and discussing the perils of old weapons that were dumped in Europe’s waters. Kornelly said that’s making citizens in other nations more aware of chemical weapons, driving them to question how they’re going to be retrieved and destroyed.
On the sidelines of some conferences, Kornelly said her help was enlisted to meet with victims of chemical weapons attacks in the Middle East. While some of the Muslim women in attendance could not meet privately with men, she said she could sit down with them herself over refreshments to help them communicate their needs.
Kornelly said she was pleased to represent Pueblo and the CAC on the world stage, because it’s important for citizens to be represented along with ambassadors and their entourages.
“This is more than academic,” she said. “Academics, and a lot of them, are doing psychological and other studies, and that’s important, too – but it’s a different perspective than what I’m doing. When it’s in your backyard, it’s a lot different.”
The CAC serves as a bridge between the community and the government, providing a forum for exchanging information, offering opportunities for public involvement and representing community and state interests. The Colorado CAC meets on a monthly basis with plant representatives and other government officials. These meetings are open to the public. Colorado’s next CAC meetings will be Jan. 29 and Feb. 26 at 6 p.m. MST at the Olde Towne Carriage House, 102 S. Victoria Ave., Pueblo.