Despite vocal opposition from some members of an Alabama community, the Anniston Army Depot began burning rockets that had been filled with sarin nerve agent August 9 and started incinerating the sarin itself August 31. The action was a first step in a seven-year plan to incinerate 2,254 tons of sarin, VX, and mustard agent stored at the site.
As of early August 28, the Army had drained and destroyed 695 M-55 rockets. On August 31, the Army began burning the sarin that was drained.
The Anniston chemical weapons disposal facility was completed in 2001 and is designed to incinerate the chemical agents and related weaponry. Some members in the local community oppose incineration and want the Army to use different disposal technologies. With the facility already completed, however, the Army has decided to proceed with incineration, arguing that it would be more dangerous to continue storing the chemical agents. An initial start date of August 6 was delayed when opponents asked a court for a restraining order against the Anniston disposal facility. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the request August 8, and the Army began destruction operations the next day.
In a compromise with local opponents who have expressed concern over safety issues, however, the Army does not plan to begin full-scale destruction until early October, when a project to “over-pressurize” local schools, hospitals, and some other community facilities is slated for completion. For example, some schools close to the depot are undergoing renovations to install a system that could pump filtered air into a sealed room in case of a chemical release. Under the agreement with the community, until the over-pressurization project is complete, the Army will only operate the liquid incinerator on weekends or after 6:00 p.m. and before 6:00 a.m.
The United States is destroying its entire chemical weapons arsenal as part of its obligations under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC). The CWC requires member states that possess chemical weapons to destroy their stockpiles by April 2007, although it allows for a possible extension until April 2012. Given the Anniston depot’s seven-year estimate and the fact that many other sites have not yet started operations, many analysts have said the United States will miss the 2007 deadline. The United States has so far destroyed about 26 percent of its chemical weapons stockpile.