Some of the World War II-era munitions recovered in recent months from Deseret Chemical Depot landfills have been found to contain mustard, a liquid blistering agent.
The depot’s Chemical Agent Disposal Facility, 20 miles south of Tooele, was shut down in January 2012 with the incineration of the last of a decades-old stockpile of chemical weapons.
But still remaining on the 19,000-acre property are 27 informal dumps, where weapons and debris were burned over the decades before environmental hazards were recognized. The Army began cleaning up these non-stockpiled weapons late last year, removing surface pollution and testing for underground pollution…
The mustard-filled munitions…were discovered in a landfill near the depot’s southern edge, said spokeswoman Alaine Grieser. “We anticipate we’ll find a few more.”
The Army used a Portable Isotopic Neutron Spectroscopy (PINS) system, sort of like an X-ray, to detect the hazardous contents. The cartridges were packed in airtight containers, and at a later date will be loaded in to a portable “Explosive Destruction System,” cracked open and chemically neutralized, Grieser said.
The Army is about halfway through the landfill and has removed about 40,000 munitions discarded between 1945 and 1978.
“Back then, it wasn’t uncommon to dig trenches and take the munitions and dump them in there and light them on fire with diesel,” said Brad Maulding, hazardous-waste facilities manager at the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). “They didn’t question the long-term environmental effects or whether burning was adequate…”
Environmental groups say the landfills should remind future generations of how something dangerous is easily mishandled.
“We have to realize that Utah is a place where lots of materials like this gets brought,” said Matt Pacenza, policy director for HEAL Utah. “Whether it’s nuclear waste or chemical weapons, we need to be constantly vigilant and skeptical when companies say, ‘Don’t worry about it. It’s safe.’ “
After the tortured use of chemical weapons in World War 1 the Geneva Protocols of 1925 prohibited chemical warfare including the use of weapons like those found in Deseret. Their presence is no surprise. Deseret being only one of several locations around the United States where our government stored and eventually destroyed stockpiles of such anti-human weapons.
What? Did you think we obeyed international law on the production of such weapons?