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Safety Concerns Persist at Pueblo Chemical Depot

By: AP
By: AP

Federal officials say safety is still a concern at the Pueblo Chemical Depot because of leaking weapons.

Chuck Sprague, Public Affairs Office with the Pueblo Chemical Depot said that,” Safety is always a concern. It’s our top priority.”

Quality assurance specialist Lisabeth Watchutka says more than 100 of the 780,000 chemical weapons stored at the depot have leaked since 1973.

Sprague says, “That’s not very many at all considering how many we have stored out here.”

Even though they are currently no leaking weapons on the post, authorities say no one goes in without gas masks or other breaking equipment. Officials are constantly monitoring the storage facilities for any leaks.

Sprague tells 11 News it’s a very detailed process officials take when entering “the igloo” where the weapons are stored. Numerous inspections are done before the chemical crew can enter.

If a leaking weapon is found, it can take days, weeks, or even months to narrow down exactly where the leak is coming from. Sprague says, “It’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”

Inspectors take sheets of plastic and drape over the stacked munitions that sit on wooden planks. The plastic isolates the air underneath the storage area. The next day, they use what they call a “real time analytical platform” or mobile air sampling unit. They use this to sample the air underneath the plastic, air that is isolated from the rest of the igloo. They keep testing the air until they find a sample that reads higher than others. This helps them narrow down the group or weapons that leaking munitions could be in. They repeat the process, narrowing down to smaller stacks until they find the culprit.

After they find it, they seal it in an over-packed container (made of metal) so its can’t leak anymore.

One of these machines will be on display for the public to see at the Avondale Veterans Parade on October 1st.

The $3.5 billion project to destroy hundreds of tons of mustard agent at the Depot is almost complete. Take a look at the timeline to destroy the chemical stockpile which has been stored at the Depot since the 1950’s.

Pueblo Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plan:

September 2004: Groundbreaking

September 2011: Construction is 80% complete

January 2015: Plant to begin destruction/start operation to destroy weapons through neutralization

Dec 2017: Deadline to end operations, to destroy stockpile under U.S. Chemical Weapon Convention Treaty


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