The first two of 16 massive pieces of equipment, designed to breakdown hazardous waste by-products, were put into place at the Pueblo Chemical Agent-Distruction Pilot Plant Wednesday afternoon.
As large as a rail car, the immobilized cell bioreactors (ICB) were moved into place with the help of a crane. Their installation is a result of years of pressure on the Army from the community.
Knowing the Pueblo Chemical Depot's stockpile of mustard agent rounds were to be destroyed, the community refused to back down on their stance against allowing hazardous liquid material to be taken off the site. "We didn't want to ship our trash, our garbage, our waste products to another state to have them destroy it," says Irene Kornelly, chairman of the Colorado Chemical Demilitarization Citizens' Advisory Commission.
Two years ago, the Army was looking at shipping the liquid by-product to another facility for treatment. The by-product, called Hydrolysate is mostly water but contains sodium hydroxide and the remnants of neutralized mustard agent. The hydrolysate that is supposed to be the end result of the mustard agent neutralization process should have a pH of 12. A pH level of 12 is the same as liquid bleach or drain cleaner.
Even if the hydrolysate does have a pH level of 12, it will still be considered a hazardous material because it was derived from mustard agent. Meanwhile, the material being shipped in to destroy the mustard agent, sodium hydroxide, is more dangerous than the hydrolysate the community fought so hard to keep from leaving the site.
Here's what they plan to do with the hydrolysate after the mustard round is neutralized. The liquid by-product of the neutralization process will be pumped to a holding tank, where it will sit for 30 days. After that time, it will be pumped into the ICB where microbes will literally eat the organic material found in the hydrolysate. This will biodegrade the hydrolysate much like a waste water treatment plant operates.
All that's left behind after this process is water and a salt-like compound. The final step of the process will be to dehydrate that compound, leaving behind a solid brine that will be shipped off to be treated and disposed of at another facility. The water will then be reused in the neutralization process.
The site project manager for the pilot plant says, construction is roughly 60 percent finished and they are still on schedule for meeting the 2017 deadline for destroying all the munition at the Depot.