Blue Grass Army Depot (BGAD), located just southeast of downtown Richmond, is the focus of Kentucky’s CSEPP program. Most of BGAD handles conventional munitions and supplies, but a small portion of the facility – the Chemical Limited Area (CLA) – houses the Blue Grass Chemical Activity (BGCA). This organization, part of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Materials Activity (CMA), is responsible for the safe storage and eventual destruction of the chemical weapons stored at BGAD.
The BGAD stockpile contains three different chemical agents. Sulfur mustard (otherwise known as H, HD, or mustard gas) is a vesicant or blister agent. GB (otherwise known as sarin) and VX are nerve agents. A total of 523 tons of these three agents are contained in about 100,000 artillery projectiles and rocket warheads. These munitions are stored in large concrete bunkers, colloquially known as igloos, within the CLA. The entire CLA is continually monitored and guarded.
BGAD’s entire chemical agent stockpile will be gone by 2023. The two types of agents – blister agent and nerve agents – will be destroyed in two different ways.
The sulfur mustard will be destroyed first, starting in spring 2017. BGAD’s inventory of this chemical was produced in the 1940s and ’50s. Since then, it has solidified and settled, much like a 70-year-old jar of spicy mustard in your grandmother’s refrigerator. Because of this, it’s impossible to drain the mustard agent from the individual artillery projectiles. Instead, one projectile at a time will be placed in a static detonation chamber (SDC) – a large blast chamber and oven. There, high heat (around 1,100°F) will cause the explosive components to detonate inside the SDC’s sturdy containment. The heat will break down the mustard agent, and a multi-stage filtering system will neutralize the gases generated by the detonation. This process is expected to be complete by the end of 2017.
In 2020, the main Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant (BGCAPP) will begin destroying the nerve agents. Each rocket or artillery projectile will undergo a reverse assembly process, which will dismantle the munition and remove its energetics (explosive components). The nerve agent, which is liquid at room temperature, will be drained and mixed vigorously with hot water and sodium hydroxide. This initial neutralization process will generate chemical products known as hydrosylates. After testing to ensure no nerve agent remains, the hydrosylates will be processed through a high-temperature, high-pressure process known as supercritical water oxidation (SCWO). The end products will be carbon dioxide, water, and salts. The nerve agent stockpile is slated to be destroyed by the end of 2023.
Learn more about Blue Grass Army Depot at the U.S. Army CMA’s BGAD page.
For more information on the status of the destruction facilities and BGAD and the chemical agent destruction processes, check out the Army’s BGCAPP fact pages.