WASHINGTON (Army News Service, March 6, 2007) - The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency has been safely eliminating America's stockpile of chemical weapons since 1990, and has reached a milestone with the destruction of half of its stockpile of chemical munitions. This accounts for more than 1.7 million munitions in the original stockpile.

"We've overcome many obstacles to reach this 50-percent milestone and are on the downhill slope, moving closer to the overall goal of getting rid of all of the chemical weapons in the U.S. stockpile," said Kevin Flamm, program manager for elimination of chemical weapons.

The United States produced a variety of chemical weapons from World War I through 1973 to deter other countries from using chemical weapons on U.S. troops. The most common agents the Army made were the mustard blister agent and two nerve agents, sarin - also known as (GB) - and VX. Mustard agent produces severe burns and can be fatal, while sarin and VX are potent nerve agents that can kill within minutes by attacking the central nervous system.

Although commonly referred to as gasses - because during World War I some chemical weapons were dispersed as vapors - these agents are liquids, each with different physical characteristics.

In the early 1970s the Army began researching ways to safely eliminate the national stockpile to reduce the risks associated with aging weapons. During this time the Army destroyed some of its chemical weapons by incinerating and neutralizing them.

Current efforts to eliminate the U.S. stockpile began in 1986 when Congress required the safe destruction of the entire stockpile, in keeping with a law that predates the Chemical Weapons Convention by more than a decade. Two years later, in 1988, the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program was formed to better prepare nearby civilian communities for any potential chemical-stockpile accident.

By teaming the Army and the Department of Homeland Security, CSEPP provides funding for chemical-accident response equipment and warning systems. It also oversees yearly community-wide emergency preparedness exercises at all of the stockpile sites, and works with communities to provide training that will help residents respond appropriately to a chemical-stockpile incident.

America's 1997 ratification of the CWC provided additional impetus for the destruction program. As a signatory, the United States agreed to comply with requirements to stop producing, stockpiling or transferring chemical weapons, and also agreed to do its part to eliminate the entire chemical-weapon stockpiles of all signatory nations. As of 2006 officials of more than 170 countries had signed the treaty.

In 1990 the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System, the U.S. Army's first disposal facility, began disposing of the U.S. chemical-weapon stockpile stored on the island, which is about 800 miles southwest of Hawaii.

The pilot facility completed its mission in 2000 after eliminating the more than 412,000 chemical weapons stored on the island. Today, Johnston Atoll is a wildlife refuge, providing habitat for endangered and threatened waterfowl and marine species.

Another chemical-stockpile site, CMA's disposal facility at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., completed disposal of the entire Edgewood Area mustard-agent stockpile in 2006.

This was the first facility within the continental United States to completely destroy its stockpile.

Other states with chemical-weapon stockpiles and accompanying disposal facilities include Alabama, Arkansas, Indiana, Oregon and Utah. Weapons are also stockpiled in Kentucky and Colorado, where disposal facilities are in the design phase as Department of Defense disposal projects.

"With our teams working across the country, we are able to move forward, knowing that we will reach 100 percent destruction in a safe and environmentally sound way. We remain dedicated to eliminating the national stockpile while protecting our communities," said past CMA Director Michael Parker.

Parker said not only does CMA have the chemical-weapon storage and disposal mission, but at the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas, CMA provides specialized products and services that support Soldiers. The arsenal produces, renovates and stores more than 60 types of special conventional ammunition products.

These products include munitions for smoke, non-lethal, riot control, incendiary, illumination and infrared uses. PBA is also the only facility in the Western Hemisphere with the capability to fill white-phosphorous munitions.

The remaining U.S. chemical-weapon stockpile includes bombs, rockets, mortars, projectiles, land mines and spray tanks filled with blister agent or one of the nerve agents.

(Argie Sarantinos-Perrin works for URS Coleman under contract with the Chemical Materials Agency.)