It’s a short dispatch from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, just three paragraphs, but you will find yourself reading them over at least three times, slowly, darting back here and there, highlighting in your mind certain phrases and drawing pictures with your imagination to bring the information into focus.
The news being reported is that the 23,000-acre Pueblo Chemical Depot has begun to destroy mustard agent, as in the agent in mustard gas. Workers at the depot are disassembling two-foot-long steel mortars, or mini missile-like munitions, and safely destroying and disposing of the chemical agent. How are they doing that, exactly? Not sure. Depot literature says the plant will use “neutralization with a hot caustic solution followed by bacterial biotreatment.” It sounds good.
The depot stores 780,000 of the mustard munitions, which altogether carry 2,611 tons of the chemical mustard material.
Before destruction began last month, the depot for years was in the safe storage business. Workers set up “igloos” underground in which to stack the mortars and their deadly cargo. You can see the igloos in satellite photos lined up in neat row after row in the brown high plains fields of the grounds.
“Weather conditions were excellent for PCD personnel to load and transfer the first installment of stockpile items to the EDS for destruction,” said Depot Commander Col. Michael S. Quinn in a March 18 release. “Our personnel in support of today’s event performed methodically and safely to make today a success. This is a proud day for everyone here at the Pueblo Chemical Depot.”
The event was reportedly delayed a day due to high winds.
The work of destroying all of the mustard gas will take roughly three years and then the the plant will be dismantled and restored by 2020. The Depot grounds will then be “transferred to the community,” which presumably means it will revert to the county.
According to the Department of Public Health, “the property is being eyed for a solar farm that would contribute energy to the military complex in Colorado Springs, including Fort Carson, Peterson and Schriever Air Force bases.”
Top photo of Pueblo Depot gas munitions via Wikimedia; munitions diagram via the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency; posters via Wikimedia.