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Newport Chemical Depot

The Newport Chemical Depot is a bulk chemical storage and destruction facility in west central Indiana, thirty miles north of Terre Haute operated by the United States Army. The total area of the depot is 7,098 acres (28.7 km²), with easement rights over an additional 1,400 acres (5.7 km²).

Newport was originally founded during World War II to produce RDX, a conventional explosive. During the 1950s, it was used to produce heavy water for the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Beginning in 1961, Newport became a site for chemical weapons manufacturing, producing the entire U.S. stockpile of VX nerve agent. It is now used to store securely and gradually neutralize part of this stockpile, some 1,270 tons (1,152 tonnes) being stored there after 1969, when President Nixon shut down the U.S. chemical weapons program and forbade any transportation of chemical agents. This was 4.1% of the entire U.S. stockpile of chemical weapons at the time the Chemical Weapons Convention came into effect.

In 1999, the Army announced the awarding of a disposal contract to Parsons Infrastructure & Technology, Inc. More than 500 civilian employees work at the facility. They are overseen by an installation commander, a civilian site project manager, reporting to the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency, and a board of civilian government overseers called the Indiana Citizens' Advisory Commission. The board's members are appointed by the state governor.

The disposal project has experienced several delays, but on May 5, 2005, the facility announced that it would finally begin pumping VX into a completed disposal unit. The unit consists of a chemical reactor in which the VX is mixed with water and sodium hydroxide, heated to 194°F (90°C) and stirred using mechanical paddles. This is a different method than the incineration which has been the primary manner of chemical agent destruction at other installations. The off-site transport of the resulting wastewater for further treatment was one cause of delay in the program. Wastewater contains small traces of VX (less than 20 ppm) as well as four main chemical byproducts. Since both Permafix and DuPont ultimately decided not to accept the wastewater for treatment and disposal into local river systems, it was stored on-site until the Army found another option. Waste is now shipped to Port Arthur, Texas to Veolia Envirnomental Services, which had previously worked with waste from Aberdeen Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, where it is processed and incinerated. A lawsuit delayed the implementation of the shipments but it was dismissed by a federal judge.[1]

A test neutralization run began at 9 AM the morning of May 6, 2005. On May 9, the Army announced the test had been successful. After encountering initial difficulties when the temperature in the reactor grew too high, workers were able to adjust the speed of the device and turn 180 gallons of VX and water into a caustic but far less lethal compound that can be further reprocessed into an inert substance. By January 2, 2008, the Army had destroyed 1,880,997 pounds (853 metric tons) of chemical agent VX (approximately 222,874 gallons). This represents 74% of the original Newport stockpile.[2] The U.S. does not receive credit for the destruction of the agents until the waste is shipped off-site to a commercial processor so treaty-recognized totals lag behind actual destruction totals until the wastewater stockpile is entirely shipped to Veolia.

A few incidents have occured during the destruction process including a 30-gallon spill of VX during processing on June 10, 2005.[3] Further incidents involved spills of the hydrolysate end product.[4] None of these incidents resulted in any injuries.

Security at the facility has been contracted out since the depot's inception in 1941. Following the events of September 11, the contractor (Mason & Hanger Corp.) was supplemented by a complement of National Guard. The soldiers were withdrawn on April 14, 2005 once the Army increased and certified the highly-trained contract security force.

Timeline of VX at Newport

  • 1962-68: VX produced at Newport
  • 1969: President Richard Nixon issues a unilateral decree halting production and transport of chemical weapons, stranding the last two batches of VX at Newport
  • 1999: contract for disposal of VX awarded.
  • 2001: D Co. 1st Battalion 502nd Infantry of the 101st Airborne Division is assigned to secure Newport shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
  • 2005, May 5: destruction of VX begins
  • 2005, October: 25 tons (23 tonnes) destroyed, less than 2.5% of stockpile[5]
  • 2006, April: 180 tons (163 tonnes) destroyed, 14% of stockpile
  • 2006, July: 274 tons (249 tonnes) destroyed, 22% of stockpile
  • 2007, January: 470 tons (426 tonnes) destroyed, 37% of stockpile[6]
  • 2007, February: 520 tons (472 tonnes) destroyed, 41% of stockpile[7]
  • 2007, September: 834 tons (757 tonnes) destroyed, 65% of stockpile [8]
  • 2007, December: 940 tons (853 tonnes) destroyed, 74% of stockpile

See also

  • The United States and weapons of mass destruction
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Newport_Chemical_Depot". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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