Pueblo weapons destruction plant nears completion

A plant under construction near Pueblo, Colorado, for the purpose of destroying nearly 800,000 mustard gas munitions is nearing completion.

The Pueblo Colorado Chemical Depot, located approximately 50 miles southeast of Colorado Springs, contains 780,000 1950s-era chemical-tipped mortar shells stored in hardened bunkers. There have been 101 reported leaks of dangerous materials there storage operations began, according to Gazette.com.

“There were designed to be handled by 18-year-old boys in the dark,” Lisabeth Wachutk, who oversees the stored shells, said, Gazette.com reports.

International treaties signed by the United States require the shells to be destroyed. Though mustard gas has rarely been used since World War I, it has become a staple of chemical weapons stockpiles.

The difficult task ahead for workers at the depot is to eliminate the stored materiel without contaminating the surrounding area.

Nonetheless, the community has fought for years to keep the destruction process on-site, rather than having the work done at other army disposal facilities, including one in Alabama that recently incinerated its last mustard gas container.

“The community has been very supportive,” Lt. Col. Timothy Greehaw, the depot commander, said, Gazette.com reports.

Pueblo citizens also demanded the construction of a new type of plant that uses a method considered by many to be more environmentally friendly than the kinds of incinerators in use elsewhere. The process is expensive and complex. The factory cost $725 million, with much of the money going toward titanium pipes and tanks that can withstand toxic chemicals.

Jerry Tiller, the plant manager, estimates that 600 workers will run the facility in three shifts every day of the week until the job is completed. At that rate, it is estimated the job will be completed within three years and cost at least $3.5 billion.