Introduction to Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons:
Who, What, Where and Why you should care
by Elizabeth Crowe
Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons Citizens Coalition
Suppose you begin building a house on property you bought recently. One day the
contractor calls and informs you that, while digging out the foundation, the construction
workers uncovered chemical agent filled mortars and projectiles. The neighborhood is
evacuated while excavation of the weapons is carried out, and construction of your house is
stalled. Or, suppose that your local newspaper reporter stumbles upon some old
documents showing that the military installation in your community was once used as a
testing site for chemical agents. The documents show that old mustard agent rounds may
still be buried on site. The installation commander says that, as long as the contaminated
area is restricted to the public, no threat to public health exists, and therefore it is not worth
further investigation. You are not convinced this is true, but you don't know where to get
more information. Who ya gonna call?
Chemical weapons like those described above have been found all over the country, and a
new grassroots coalition has been formed to address the retrieval, storage and destruction
of this dangerous stuff. Non-stockpile chemical materiel -- the "junk" left over from
chemical warfare production and testing -- is scattered at more than 100 sites in over 35
U.S. states. Ton containers of chemical agents, munitions which were improperly burned
or dumped, agent testing kits used by soldiers and contaminated buildings used for the
production of these chemicals all fall under the banner of non-stockpile materiel.
Development and testing of chemical agents dates back to the early 1900s. Chemical agents
and weapons of all types were transported cross-country, as part of agent warfare testing.
"Testing" included air agent dispersion tests, detonation of chemically-configured
munitions, field training of soldiers, and many other activities. For several decades,
damaged or outdated weapons and other testing items were burned, dumped and otherwise
improperly disposed on land and in waterways. By the 1960s, when testing activities
declined, hundreds of sites were contaminated. The majority of the U.S. chemical
weapons stockpile was divided up for storage at nine sites (eight in the U.S. and one in the
Pacific). Few, if any, citizens from these stockpile communities knew that they were
neighbors to such lethal weapons until 1985, when Congress directed the U.S. Army to
create a program to clean up its chemical weapons stockpile.
Although there has been a 10-year, widely publicized battle over disposal of these
stockpiled weapons, issues around non-stockpile materiel are not as well-known. Because
so many military records regarding chemical agent testing and disposal have been lost, or
perhaps destroyed, the Army has a tough job in retrieving and destroying non-stockpile
weapons. Sometimes the only documentation of non-stockpile sites is an old photograph,
or recollections from an aging veteran. Non-Stockpile Program officials freely admit they
do not know the extent of the problem.
Now public awareness of the problem and the ratification of the Chemical Weapons
Convention, which mandates disposal of all stockpiled and some non-stockpile chemical
weapons, has moved the issue to the forefront. So far two technologies have been
developed specifically for treatment of non-stockpile materiel. One, the Rapid Response
System, will undergo test treatment of chemical agent identification sets (sets of glass vials
containing small amounts of chemical agents, used for training soldiers) at the Deseret
Chemical Depot in Utah. The Munitions Management Device (MMD), developed to treat
non-explosive munitions, may soon be permitted for testing at the Dugway Proving
Grounds, also in Utah. Both technologies are transportable, non-incineration systems, two
qualities which generally appeal to the public.
In addition to the Rapid Response System and Munitions Management Device series
technologies, the Army is developing other devices to help them safely locate and destroy
unstable non-stockpile weapons. These devices, if proven effective, may eliminate the
Army's practice of burning or detonating munitions in the open air. Army officials in the
Non-Stockpile Program are also making links to other alternative technology programs.
These links will benefit not only those communities affected by non-stockpile weapons, but
numerous other military clean-up projects. Citizens are heartened by these initiatives, and
we are working to ensure that any viable alternative technologies can be implemented as
soon as possible.
Even with these promising approaches to non-stockpile weapons disposal, there is much
work to be done. Residuals from non-stockpile disposal processes may be incinerated if
no program to implement alternative technologies is in place. In addition, issues such as
the retrieval, storage and transportation of non-stockpile weapons are of great concern to
Coalition members. Currently, Army decisions on the handling of non-stockpile weapons
are not all based in safety and protection of public health as citizens define it. Only two
military installations (Desert Chemical Depot in Utah, and Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas)
are permitted to accept shipments of non-stockpile wastes for storage. These communities
should not have to bear an unfair burden of wastes. On the other hand, finding additional
appropriate sites where non-stockpile weapons can be stored -- pending disposal from the
Army's portable technologies or other identified technologies -- may be difficult.
The Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons Citizens Coalition seeks to be a voice for
community people on the issues around non-stockpile materiel. The Coalition has begun
developing pro-active strategies in order to prevent the types of failures plaguing the
stockpile disposal program and so many other military clean-up projects. What we offer to
community members and organization are staff functions and a grassroots, consensus-
based structure; information on non-stockpile weapons and the scope of the Army's non-
stockpile program; knowledge on alternative technologies; advocacy for public involvement
and safe technologies to the Army, legislators and other decision-makers; and links with
others working on military toxics issues.
For more information on the Non-Stockpile Chemical Weapons Citizens Coalition, please
contact Elizabeth Crowe by phone at (606) 986-0868, or by email at
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