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Army Reveals Its Arsenal of Chemicals

Military: Previously secret information discloses 30,000 tons of nerve and blister agents stored nationwide. All are to be destroyed by 2004.

February 18, 1996|ROBERT BURNS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON — A decade after it was ordered by Congress to destroy its chemical weapons, the Army is making public how many and what types it has. All are to be destroyed by the year 2004 at a cost of $12 billion.

The previously secret figures show a little over 30,000 tons of nerve and blister agents in what the Army calls its stockpile. That is about what observers had widely assumed before Monday's disclosures.

Russia, the only other country to acknowledge having chemical weapons, has put its total at 40,000 tons. The United States is helping Russia destroy them.

Less well-known was the amount of chemical agents that the Army counts separately from its stockpile. There are more than 13,600 tons of chemicals in a category that includes materials used for testing, and materials and weapons obtained from other countries during wars, officials said. In a few cases, the Army doesn't even know what chemicals are in those weapons.

Also not counted in the 30,000 tons are agents used in the Army's chemical defense program. These total nearly 10,000 tons and are stored at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland and at Dugway Proving Ground in Utah. They are used to validate the Army's chemical defenses such as protective clothing for the battlefield.

Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said the Army may keep as much as one ton for its chemical defense program. Every remaining category of chemicals will be destroyed.

By far the most common chemicals in the U.S. arsenal are the mustard agent HD and nerve agents sarin and VX. The only examples of mind-bending drugs of the type that caused great controversy in the 1970s when it was revealed that the Army had experimented with them on humans, are small amounts of BZ stored at Aberdeen and Dugway.

Maj. Gen. Robert Orton, head of the Army's chemical weapons destruction project, told a Pentagon news conference that declassifying the information will expedite efforts to get environmental clearances needed to incinerate the weapons.

"It also may enhance our credibility by confirming that we are not holding back from regulators and the public," Orton said. "It eliminates a serious irritant."

The weapons destruction project was ordered by Congress in 1986. So far about 900 tons of chemical agents have been incinerated on Johnston Atoll, a U.S. territory in the Pacific that has been the testing ground for incineration.

The United States never used any of the more than 3 million chemical weapons it built since their use was outlawed by the 1925 Geneva Protocol.

Here is the breakdown of the U.S. chemical weapons stockpile:

* At Tooele Army Depot, Utah, 13,616 tons in 1.1 million individual weapons. The chemicals are three kinds of mustard agents, five of nerve agents and lewisite, a kind of blistering agent. Tooele is the largest single storage site.

* At Anniston Army Depot, Ala., 2,253 tons in 661,000 weapons. Two mustard agents, two nerve agents.

* Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md., 1,624 tons in bulk containers. Mustard agents.

* Blue Grass Army Depot, Ky., 523 tons in 101,000 weapons. One type of mustard agent, two of nerve agents.

* Newport Chemical Activity, Ind., 1,269 tons of the nerve agent VX in bulk containers.

* Pine Bluff Arsenal, Ark., 3,849 tons in 123,000 weapons and bulk containers. Two kinds of mustard agents, two of nerve agents.

* Pueblo Depot Activity, Colo., 2,611 tons in 780,000 weapons (mostly 105-millimeter cartridges and 155-millimeter projectiles). Mustard agents.

* Umatilla Depot Activity at Hermiston, Ore., 3,717 tons in 220,000 weapons and containers. One kind of mustard agent, two of nerve agents.

In addition, the Army has 1,134 tons of nerve and mustard agents in 292,000 weapons stored on Johnston Atoll.

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