Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA) is actively preparing to support the demilitarization of chemical weapons, which is scheduled to begin this summer at the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) at Blue Grass Army Depot, Kentucky.
The Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD) houses one of two remaining chemical weapons storage sites in the United States. BGCA stores and monitors structures that contain over 101,000 chemical munitions scheduled for destruction. These weapons include nerve agents GB and VX and the mustard agent H.
As a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the United States has committed to chemically disarm by destroying any stockpiles of chemical weapons along with facilities that produce them. The CWC came into force in 1997 and the treaty currently has 193 state parties.
"We have been steadily working toward supporting the upcoming demilitarization operation at BGCAPP," said David Velazquez, chemical operations director. "We have moved into the final phase of training, which is joint training with BGCAPP personnel to move the weapons from storage to the plant for destruction."
The loading and custody transfer of the chemical munitions for movement to the plant is a key responsibility of the activity. BGCA must ensure the munitions are removed from storage, properly strapped down onto pallets and safely loaded onto a munitions transport vehicle called an enhanced on-site container (EONC).
"This operation requires a variety of personnel, about 20, to make sure everything runs smoothly and that we follow procedures," said John Robbins, field operations division chief for BGCA. "We have toxic materials handlers, forklift operators, chemical accountability management personnel, surety specialists, quality assurance specialists (ammunition surveillance) and supervisors working together to ensure everything is properly executed."
The chemical operations crew has been training on munitions transfer and movement in conjunction with BGCAPP since 2017. The process is relatively straightforward. The storage igloo is monitored with a real-time analytical platform that will detect agent if it is in the ambient air. Once the operator ensures the igloo is safe for crews to enter, they set up a decontamination station outside the igloo in case anyone comes into contact with agent. Though this has never occurred at BGCA, the safety and well-being of the workforce, community and environment is always the first consideration in conducting chemical operations.
Personnel unlock and enter the igloo to perform initial visual checks before the plan is executed. Once the all clear is given, a crew member drives a forklift into the igloo to retrieve the weapons and move them onto the apron. More crew members use straps to secure the weapons to the pallets according to Defense Ammunition Center procedures. Meanwhile, the worker responsible for the accountability of the weapons transfers custody to BGCAPP personnel.
Once these tasks are complete, the forklift driver loads the pallet of chemical weapons into an EONC with the help of ground guides. An EONC is an enclosed, seal-tested container used to transport the munitions from storage to the destruction facility. BGCAPP personnel close the EONC door and drive a short distance to perform a seal test. After a successful seal test, they drive the EONC to BGCAPP to unload the weapons into munitions storage areas at the plant.
The mustard munitions are scheduled to be destroyed first, followed by the nerve agent weapons. BGCAPP is slated to complete the destruction of the chemical weapons stored at BGAD in 2023.