Army Plans to Begin Destroying VX in Indiana

The Army said last week that it plans to begin destroying VX nerve agent at Indiana's Newport Chemical Depot in about two months.

Destruction will begin even if plans to ship the waste byproduct to New Jersey for final treatment and disposal fall through, said Col. Jesse Barber, a project manager for the Army Chemical Materials Agency.

If those plans do fall through, the Army could store hydrolysate – the caustic byproduct from the neutralized VX – in tanks at the western Indiana site, he said.

The Army plans to begin neutralizing the VX at Newport by mixing it with hot water and sodium hydroxide. The resulting chemical would be hydrolysate, which scientists compare to liquid drain cleaner.

The Army originally planned to ship the treated waste to Dayton, Ohio, for final disposal, but dropped that plan in the face of legal opposition.

The plans now call for the hydrolysate to be shipped to DuPont's Secure Environmental Treatment facility in Deepwater, N.J., located at the foot of the Delaware Memorial Bridge. DuPont would break down the chemicals in the wastewater and dump effluent containing some chemical byproducts into the Delaware River.

More than 500 citizens attended informational sessions conducted earlier this month by the Army in New Jersey and Delaware and expressed opposition to the plan, fearing the chemical would pollute the river or might even reform into VX.

Sara Morgan, a spokeswoman for Newport Citizens Against Incineration, asked Barber if he had a contingency plan if the arrangement to ship the waste failed.

Barber said there are 48 5,000-gallon tanks that can store the hydrolysate at Newport and the Army could order more tanks if necessary and store the waste at the depot until it can be destroyed.

Barber said that removing the risk posed by storing the VX at Newport is the Army's first priority.

A single drop of liquid VX can cause paralysis and death within minutes. About 1,269 tons of the Cold War-era nerve agent are stored at the depot north of Terre Haute. The VX was scheduled to be destroyed by April 2007 under the Chemical Weapons Convention international treaty, but Congress accelerated the process after the 2001 terrorist attacks.

The Army estimates the entire process would take about two years.

The Associated Press

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