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Mustard agent safely destroyed at Savanna

Published June 19, 2017
The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity Recovered Chemical Materiel Directorate conducted a destruction mission of a WWII-era munition containing mustard agent that was discovered at the Savanna Army Depot in Illinois last year.

The U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity Recovered Chemical Materiel Directorate conducted a destruction mission of a WWII-era munition containing mustard agent that was discovered at the Savanna Army Depot in Illinois last year.

A World War II-era munition containing mustard agent was safely destroyed at Savanna Army Depot (SVDA) in Illinois May 14. 

The 155-mm mustard round was discovered last year during the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ planned remedial investigation at three sites to look for potential mustard agent. 

USACE, which has been working at the SVDA, a 13,062-acre Army installation, to conduct environmental activities since the early 1990s, called on the experts to handle the destruction mission. USACE works closely with the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity Recovered Chemical Materiel Directorate (RCMD) out of Maryland for remediation efforts at sites that may have buried chemical munitions. The directorate has decades of experience in destroying recovered chemical warfare materiel.

Nora Hawk, USACE Louisville District Project Manager for SVDA, said the project was “truly an excellent and successful example of multi-agency and multi-discipline team collaboration.”

“The SVDA Base Environmental Coordinator, Cathy Collins, remained in close coordination with RCMD throughout the planning, storage and destruction efforts and USACE team members from both Louisville District and Huntsville Center provided necessary management support,” Hawk said.

When items with unknown liquid fills are recovered, RCMD sends specialized assessment equipment and a team of experts from CARA, the Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and Explosive (CBRNE) Analytical and Remediation Activity, part of the U.S. Army 20th CBRNE Command. They identify the contents of munitions without opening them, which enhances safe, efficient operations.

After the item was assessed in December and confirmed to contain mustard agent, destruction mission planning began. Policy requires recovered chemical munitions to be destroyed at the closest DoD facility capable of hosting a mission, which in this case was SVDA. RCMD provided a temporary storage facility to SVDA, where the munition was secured until destruction.

In April, a team led by RCMD project manager Derek Romitti, with personnel from the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, arrived in Illinois to set up the site for the Explosive Destruction System, the organization’s time-tested destruction technology to safely destroy the munition.

“Just to ensure the site was ready took months of coordination,” Romitti said. “We need to have power, water, security and personnel. Setting up the equipment and actually completing the EDS mission is the culmination of months of effort.”

The EDS is RCMD’s primary method for destroying recovered chemical munitions. It has destroyed more than 2,600 recovered chemical warfare items in 12 states with an impeccable safety record. The system’s main component­—a sealed, stainless steel vessel—contains all blast, vapor and fragments from the process. The EDS uses linear shaped cutting charges to explosively access the munition’s chemical payload for neutralization. Operators confirm treatment by sampling residual liquid and air from the vessel prior to reopening the EDS. 

The process takes place in an environmental enclosure that operates under negative pressure and filters all air through a carbon filtration system. An extensive series of equipment checks, safety evaluations and regulatory approvals are required before operations begin.