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Safety

New Approach Needed For Dealing With Buried Chemical Arms

by Glenn Hess
August 13, 2012 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 90, ISSUE 33

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Credit: U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency
This U.S.-made 4.2-inch mortar shell was designed to deliver a chemical agent.
09033-govcon-chemweaponcxd.jpg
Credit: U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency
This U.S.-made 4.2-inch mortar shell was designed to deliver a chemical agent.

The methods currently used to identify and destroy buried chemical munitions are not reliable, according to a National Research Council report. A new approach is needed for remediation of the Redstone Arsenal facility in Alabama—the U.S. site with the largest quantity of buried chemical warfare materials—and other projects on active and former military installations. Destroying intact chemical warfare materials recovered during environmental restoration efforts “is turning into a much larger program that will rival those for conventional munition and hazardous substance clean-up,” a press release for the report says. This will cost billions of dollars over several years, it adds. During the early- to mid-20th century, chemical warfare materials were often disposed of by open-pit burning and burial at some 250 sites in 40 states. However, the report says, those disposal methods did not fully eliminate the danger, and the sites must be cleaned. The report recommends that the Pentagon increase funding for the project to enable the Army to complete an inventory of known and suspected buried chemical munitions no later than 2013.

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