Army team destroys old chemical munitions
October 22, 2012
- "We have a lot of equipment for these kinds of field situations."
DOVER, Del. -- On the outskirts of a busy runway at Dover Air Force Base, a quiet, nondescript mobile operating center is nestled into an open field, not at all disturbed by the whirring engines overhead. The only indicator of life inside the fenced-in camp is a row of cars parked outside the gates and concrete barricades. Then there it is -- a flash of brightness.
Pops of neon green scatter across the field of view before disappearing into a large tan tent, mobile laboratory or trailer command center. They are the Chemical Biological Applications & Risk Reduction workforce, donned in new high visibility gear, walking to and from various points of interest as the reflective stripes on their shirts illuminate a cool, commanding presence.
As part of the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., the 10 CBARR crew members sported their long-sleeve neon shirts and khaki pants as a required precautionary safety measure for projects involving the decontamination of chemical weapons. In this case, three recovered chemical munitions containing mustard.
"We've done the same items in Dover before but the one thing that's unique this time is we have a 'leaker,' so to speak. What that means is the munition's integrity is suspect and may actually be leaking," said Ray Diberardo, Dover project manager for CBARR.
The recovered chemical warfare materiel was found among assembly line workers at a Sea Watch International clam processing plant in Milford, Del. a few months ago, and the U.S. Army's 20th Support Command confirmed the munitions had tested positive for the presence of a chemical agent. CBARR operated the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency's Project Manager for Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel Explosive Destruction System to safely destroy three 75-millimeter munitions filled with mustard.
This marks the seventh time CBARR has been called in to support the remediation effort at Dover Air Force Base, which began in 2004 when the EDS destroyed 11 World War I-era 75-milimeter projectiles.
The CMA EDS is an explosion and vapor containment chamber in which the munition is placed for destruction. However, unlike open detonation, which uses explosives to destroy the chemical agent, the EDS instead uses explosives to access the contents of the munition, expose the chemical agent and destroy the burster. Chemicals are then added to the chamber to neutralize the munition's fill of chemical agent.
There were a few atypical things that Diberardo noted about the remediation project, such as the discovery of legacy waste including vermiculite, plastic wrap and other items that were found near the munitions and are suspected to be contaminated.
"In the past we've never had this legacy waste. It's unique for the operation but it's not unique for what the crew is trained for. It's really nothing out of the ordinary," Diberardo said. "Now, probably what is out of the ordinary is the third thing we have to do. We also monitored some conventional items that ended up being in close proximity to the chemical items."
According to Jim Swank, chemical operations manager for CBARR, conventional items like rifle grenades, hand grenades, 57-milimeter projectiles and a few small arms will be monitored to determine whether they are clean or contaminated. These conventional items, along with the legacy waste, is what made the Dover project unique for Diberardo and his CBARR crew. That's not to say, however, they weren't prepared.
Within weeks, the open field had transformed into a bustling operation center equipped with mobile labs, analytic platforms, generators and tents. The EDS, which is owned by CMA PMNSCM, has successfully and safely destroyed more than 1,800 items in its lifetime.
"We have a lot of equipment for these kinds of field situations. CBARR integrates equipment with CMA in order to meet all the requirements of the site," said Diberardo, who preps his team for unexpected challenges that may arise with equipment or facilities during the pre-operations set-up.
"We also bring a highly experienced workforce," Diberardo said. "The crew does this for a living and there's a lot of commonality between the various jobs so we can pick someone from Pine Bluff and know they're going to be as fluent in the job as someone from Edgewood. It's a very experienced workforce and that's our biggest asset right now."