Army Destroys First Batch of Nerve Agent

Army contractors successfully destroyed two batches of a deadly nerve agent last week in the first test of a project to eliminate a chemical weapons (search) stockpile in western Indiana, military officials said Monday.

Laboratory results showed that 180 gallons of VX nerve agent (search) funneled last Friday into two chemical reactors were safely neutralized, said Jeff Brubaker, the Army's site manager at the Newport Chemical Depot (search).

The nerve agent, a liquid with the consistency of mineral oil, can kill a healthy adult with a single droplet. The results mean the project to destroy more than 250,000 gallons of VX can proceed at the site about 30 miles north of Terre Haute.

People who live near Newport "have waited a long time for neutralization to begin, and we are now one day closer to eliminating the risk that the VX poses to their communities," Brubaker said.

By the end of the week, Army contractor Parsons Technology Inc. hopes to have destroyed about 540 gallons of VX — or the contents of about three of the 1,600 hardened steel containers stored at the site, Brubaker said.

Craig Williams, director of a citizens' watchdog organization in Berea, Ky., called the Chemical Weapons Working Group, said he hopes the military proceeds cautiously with plans to destroy the VX stockpile.

"You just can't err on the side of caution too much when you're dealing with a material this lethal," Williams said.

The neutralization process is expected to take more than two years. The process produces a caustic chemical called hydrolysate that will initially be stored at the depot. The site can store about 340,000 gallons of the waste.

The Army wants to transport the hydrolysate — which has been compared to liquid drain cleaner — to a plant in New Jersey for treatment and disposal in the Delaware River. But that plan has sparked opposition in New Jersey and Delaware.

"I think the big question now is whether they will be shipping it to New Jersey or treating it on site," Williams said. "That's the big blip on the radar screen right now."