Negotiations to monitor Colorado chemical weapons hits impasse

An impasse in negotiations on monitoring chemical weapons stored outside Pueblo, Colorado, between Colorado and Army officials has stalled plans to blow up thousands of shells containing mustard agent.

In August, the Colorado health department sued the Army, seeking to force it to increase its monitoring of the Pueblo Chemical Depot's 2,600 tons of mustard agent.

Following the August lawsuit, a settlement was announced in January with the two sides discussing implementation. Most of the issues had been agreed upon by the beginning of March, a federal magistrate was told, but two issues created the impasse.

The issues in question, the state says, are over classifying the munitions as waste and how much protection workers would receive against chemicals other than mustard.

The Army is currently in the process of building a plant to destroy the mustard agent. The plant would use water and bacteria to destroy the shells, though it will not be operational in time to meet an international deadline for eliminating the weapons.

The Army's original plan was to blow up approximately 1,000 leaking and damaged shells at the plant. Separate facilities would be used to begin exploding the damaged shells in addition to intact shells prior to finishing the plant. An environmental assessment has predicted that there would be no significant impacts from that plan.