The Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) is safely destroying the chemical weapons stockpile stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot, or BGAD. Located near Richmond, Kentucky, the depot provides conventional ammunition services, chemical defense equipment management and manufacturing capabilities for the Department of Defense (DOD). The Blue Grass Chemical Activity a tenant of the 15,000-acre depot, is responsible for the safekeeping of the portion of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile stored at the depot. Together, the U.S. Army and the community surrounding BGAD are working in a committed partnership to support the safe destruction of the Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile.
What chemical weapons are stored at BGAD?
The Blue Grass chemical weapons stockpile originally consisted of more than 500 tons of weaponized blister and nerve agent in rockets and artillery projectiles. Contrary to popular belief, these chemicals are not gases. In their original form, they are liquids. When stored for a long period of time, they can become thick and sludge-like or crystallized. X-rays found the mustard agent in some projectiles to have solidified into what is called a “heel.”
What is BGCAPP?
The Blue Grass plant is a state-of-the-art, full-scale pilot plant designed to safely and efficiently neutralize the Blue Grass chemical weapons nerve agent stockpile. In June 2003, a contract was awarded to Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass (BPBG) to design, construct, test, operate and ultimately close this facility.
BGCAPP designed, permitted, constructed, systemized and operated an Explosive Destruction Technology (EDT) facility at BGAD that destroyed the entire stockpile of mustard projectiles. A Static Detonation Chamber (SDC) was selected by BPBG as the EDT best suited to augment BGCAPP for that task. A second, larger SDC began operations at BGCAPP in January 2023 to destroy overpacked rockets, rockets deemed unsuitable for processing in the main plant and containerized, drained and undrained rocket warheads. The original SDC is being retrofitted to destroy containerized, drained and undrained rocket warheads. The systems will be decontaminated and closed after agent destruction operations.
How will the weapons be destroyed?
The DOD selected neutralization as the method to destroy chemical agents. During the neutralization process, munitions are disassembled using modified reverse assembly. After the agent is drained, it is chemically decomposed and neutralized by caustic or water hydrolysis. The resulting chemical compounds are known as hydrolysate, which is shipped to a permitted hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal facility for final destruction. Metal parts and contaminated dunnage, which consists of materials such as the contaminated wooden pallets upon which the weapons are stored, are thermally decontaminated in a Metal Parts Treater. Non-contaminated dunnage is shipped off site for disposal in permitted landfills. Gas effluents are treated, filtered and monitored.
Because solidification of the mustard agent was found in a significant number of mustard projectiles, rendering them unsuitable for the automated neutralization process described above, an SDC system, now called the SDC 1200, was used to destroy the entire Blue Grass mustard stockpile, completing operations in September 2021.
That system is being retrofitted with an off-gas treatment system to destroy nerve agent. It is expected to begin operations by spring or summer 2023. In January 2023, the new, larger SDC 2000 began destruction operations. Both SDC systems are spherical, fully contained and armored, high-alloy stainless steel vessels that use electrically generated heat at more than 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit to detonate or deflagrate the munitions, thus destroying the chemical agent and energetics.
This equipment uses fully monitored pollution-abatement systems, which includes thermal oxidizers and scrubbers to remove particulates, sulfur dioxides, chlorine and any heavy metals. This equipment also uses robust filtration systems to ensure air released back to the environment is clean.
Who will destroy the weapons?
The Program Executive Office, Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (PEO ACWA), headquartered at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland, is responsible for safely destroying the Blue Grass stockpile. BPBG, the systems contractor, operates the chemical agent destruction facility and SDC systems. Many other organizations are working in partnership with PEO ACWA and the BPBG team to complete this mission successfully, including the U.S. Department of the Army, U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity, Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection (KDEP), Kentucky Division of Emergency Management and the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.
How will the environment be protected?
Protection of the unique environment surrounding BGAD is one of the project’s top considerations. Therefore, the environmental permits for the plant are based on special environmental studies conducted locally. Additionally, the environment is continually monitored during destruction activities to ensure operations protect the area. Oversight is provided by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and KDEP during the entire process.
What will happen to the plant and depot once the weapons have been destroyed?
Upon completion of stockpile destruction, BGCAPP will be closed in accordance with all applicable laws, requirements and regulations. The areas of the plant that have come in contact with chemical agent will be decontaminated and the equipment dismantled. The disposition of the remainder of the plant has not yet been determined and will be negotiated among the Department of the Army, Commonwealth of Kentucky, PEO ACWA and BGAD. The depot will continue with its missions of supplying munitions, chemical defense equipment and Special Operations support to the DOD.
What are the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission and the Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board?
In accordance with Public Law 102-484, the Kentucky Chemical Demilitarization Citizens’ Advisory Commission, or CAC, serves as a bridge between the community and the government by providing a forum for exchanging information about chemical weapons destruction. The governor of Kentucky appoints nine members to the CAC, including seven private citizens and two representatives of state agencies who work closely with the chemical weapons destruction program. The CAC conducts public meetings to facilitate consistent public participation in the program. Local citizens can receive meeting notices and minutes by email. The Chemical Destruction Community Advisory Board, known as the CDCAB, is an independent subcommittee of the CAC. The CDCAB is made up of a diverse group of community leaders who represent different views and concerns of all sectors of the local community on issues regarding Kentucky’s chemical weapons destruction program. With input from many interested groups, the board’s primary objective is to share information with the community and provide input to government decision-makers.
As the chemical weapons destruction project moves forward, the topics addressed by the CAC and its CDCAB are as important as they are varied. For information on current topics being considered by the commission, to learn the upcoming meeting schedule or to be added to the mailing list, please contact the Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office. For information on the board, please contact co-chairs Craig Williams at (859) 986-7565 or Madison County Judge-Executive Reagan Taylor at (859) 624-4700.
How can I learn more?
The Blue Grass Chemical Stockpile Outreach Office provides the community with an information source and communications channel for chemical weapons destruction at BGAD. It supports the program’s commitment to openness and public involvement. The staff develops and provides information papers, brochures and exhibits, makes technical documents and reports available and provides speakers to local groups and organizations. The office staff also support quarterly CAC/CDCAB meetings. The office is located at 1000 Commercial Drive, Suite 2, in Richmond. For more information, visit www.peoacwa.army.mil or contact the staff at (859) 626-8944 or email@example.com.