By Kari Hawkins, USAG RedstoneJuly 23, 2010
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- In a remote area of Redstone Arsenal near Gate 3, explosive ordnance experts are quietly and safely going about the business of detonating munitions that herald mainly from the World War II era.
The munitions destruction operation is being conducted without the noise, work interruptions and environmental damage associated with controlled open burn or open detonations of unwanted ordnance thanks to a transportable Explosive Destruction System brought to Redstone by the Army Chemical Materials Agency, Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. The system minimizes the risk to life and environmental impact of detonating old munitions.
"They will destruct 16 rounds of projectile that we currently have in storage at Redstone Arsenal," Garrison commander Col. Bob Pastorelli said during a media tour July 12 at the site of the Explosive Destruction System. The tour followed a similar event for local public officials earlier in the day.
The colonel said all safety factors have been considered and measures taken to ensure a safe disposal of the 16 munitions, 15 of which are World War II era and another a World War I mortar discovered at Fort McClellan, Anniston.
"Safety is paramount," he said.
The Explosive Destruction System has been used to safely detonate and dispose more than 1,600 rounds of munitions at both public locations and military installations, such as Aberdeen and Spring Valley, Washington, D.C. Redstone Arsenal officials requested its use because of the risk associated with continuing to store these items. They are being destroyed under a Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act removal action.
"This is one of the safest ways, for all practical purposes, for getting rid of these rounds," Pastorelli said.
"Could we do this in open burn, open destruction' Yes. But in today's environmental climate, it is more important for this to be very environmentally safe. This process allows for the vapors and agents of the munitions to be recollected" and disposed of through the Environmental Protection Agency at a site designated for hazardous material storage.
The disposal operations are estimated to cost about $600,000, which includes coordinating all state, Department of Army and Department of Defense approvals, planning and preparing the site, and conducting the operation.
Fourteen World War II era munitions were discovered in 2009, while preparing for construction of the new Software Engineering Directorate building on the west side of the Arsenal near the Redstone Airfield while a practice round was found in an igloo (also known as bunker) on post, said Terry Delapaz, chief of the Garrison's Installation Restoration Branch. One munition was found in February 2010 by an excavation crew preparing for construction at Fort McClellan, and was shipped to the Arsenal for storage and destruction.
The recovered munitions include 13 4.2-inch mortars filled with FS smoke, one 4.2-inch mortar filled with an antifreeze and water mix, and one 8-inch practice round filled with antifreeze. The Fort McClellan munition is an 8-inch "Livens" mortar from World War I filled with FM smoke. It was shipped to Redstone for storage and destruction.
"All are liquid filled rounds and that's why we're disposing of them in this way," Delapaz said.
The munitions were meant for use as battlefield obscurants.
"These are smoke rounds. They are battlefield projectile that explodes into a smoke cloud used to guard friendly positions or to set up a screening action," Pastorelli said.
The munitions are not filled with chemical agents, stressed Gary Hlavsa, project manager for Non-Stockpile Chemical Materiel at Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"They are FS smoke and FM smoke, and a mixture of water and antifreeze," he said, adding that they are "slightly acidic."
The Explosive Destruction System has been set up in a temporary environmental enclosure tent with a floor covered by impermeable plastic. It is located near buildings 7668 and 7700 at a site off Eagle Road near Gate 3. The site is about 6.5 miles from igloo 8633, where the recovered munitions are stored, and more than 200 feet from the nearest occupied facility.
Destruction of the munitions will occur in July between 3 and 6 a.m. to prevent any possible disruptions to the work day of the nearby community. Occupancy of nearby buildings will be coordinated by the Garrison Safety Office to ensure employees are not present during the movement and placement of the munitions in the Explosive Destruction System.
Six explosive ordnance experts are involved in the actual disposal. They are dressed in protective gear and work in two teams of three. The teams are changed after each step in the disposal process.
"Because of the heat and humidity, they've got to have breaks," Hlavsa said.
While the teams work, other employees in a nearby trailer - known as the command post - have continual audio and visual communications with the operators.
The munitions will be "overpacked" in cylinders that will be moved to the Explosive Destruction System. The teams will remove the munitions from the cylinders and take them to the platform of the Explosive Destruction System. They will surround them with linear shaped charges and place them in the fragment suppression shield. That assembly is then placed in a stainless-steel containment chamber, featuring a 5,000-pound, 9-inch-thick door sealed by hydraulic clamps.
The chamber has 4-inch thick walls and a 7-inch thick back wall. It can safely contain detonations of up to 4.8 pounds of TNT equivalent.
"At the time of the detonation, there is no one in this enclosure," Hlavsa said, referring to the tent that houses the Explosive Destruction System.
Operators will then detonate the shaped charges, cutting open the munitions to detonate any explosive materials inside. All vapors and fragments remain contained in the chamber. The chamber will then be filled with chemicals to neutralize the smoke-producing liquid in the munitions, and then heated and rotated to mix the contents to ensure full neutralization. The liquid is then extracted and put in hazardous waste containers. Then, the munitions undergo a rinse and are heated if necessary, and removed once the operators ensure all residuals are neutralized.
"There is no release to the environment," Hlavsa said. "The neutralization process takes about 30 minutes depending on the materials."
The system can handle single or multiple detonations, but multiple detonations must be of the same type.
"The WWI munition contains FM smoke, not FS smoke like the others. Because it is a different fill and different configuration, it will be done on a day by itself," Hlavsa said.
Although all safety precautions are being taken, Hlavsa said there is always a risk when handling old munitions.
"These munitions have been buried for many years. They are evaluated before they are overpacked," he said. "But when they are unpacked, there may be a leak. A steam of smoke would indicate a leak. In that case, they would be wrapped in plastic and then go on with the operation."
Hlavsa said Arsenal employees should not expect to hear any explosions caused by the detonations.
"It's not going to be a very large bang. It's more of a pop," he said. "The purpose of this system is to contain the blast and it does that very well."