The U.S. Army began destroying mustard agent at a disposal site at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland April 23. Destruction of the agent is expected to be complete in about six months, according to a spokeswoman with the Aberdeen Chemical Agent Disposal Facility.
The United States is destroying its entire chemical weapons stockpile in accordance with U.S. law and the Chemical Weapons Convention, which requires the destruction of chemical weapons. The Aberdeen site is one of nine planned or existing chemical weapons disposal sites and is one of two currently disposing of chemical agent. About 5 percent of the original U.S. chemical weapons stockpile is stored at the Aberdeen Proving Ground; the United States has destroyed more than 25 percent of its entire stockpile.
Destruction of the mustard agent—a liquid blister compound—was originally scheduled to be completed in 2006, but after the September 11 attacks in New York and on the Pentagon, the Army implemented an accelerated destruction schedule. Under the accelerated program, workers at the Aberdeen Chemical Agent Disposal Facility will drain the liquid out of its steel containers and destroy the agent first, then later decontaminate and recycle its containers.
Despite the accelerated schedule, the facility missed its earlier March 3 start date. A press release from the Chemical Materials Agency cites “record-setting snowstorms and equipment adjustments” that delayed tests the Army must run before destroying the mustard agent.
The agent, which has been stored at the proving ground for more than 60 years, will be neutralized. The Army originally planned to incinerate weapons at all nine sites but later decided to use neutralization at three sites, partly due to community objections to incineration, which destroys the chemical agent by burning it. Various neutralization methods dispose of the agent by mixing it with other substances, resulting in a less hazardous mixture. The Army has chosen incineration for five sites and neutralization for four sites.