“What employees have accomplished here in the last 70 years is nothing short of amazing. I commend every one of you who have carried out this mission.”
—Brig. Gen. Kristin French, U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command
An important event of U.S. and world significance happened in Tooele County last week. Its contribution will hopefully go a long way to make global peace a sustainable reality one day—instead of an abstract wish.
That important event was Thursday’s official closure of Deseret Chemical Depot in Rush Valley. With military, state and local officials in attendance, a symbolic, over-sized key was presented by DCD’s last commander, Col. Mark Pomeroy, to Tooele Army Depot’s new commander, Col. Roger McCreery. With that gesture, the facility once again has the name of Tooele Army Depot South Area.
But it is hoped the name Deseret Chemical Depot, and the important work that occurred there, won’t be forgotten anytime soon. That important work has been the thermal destruction of 44 percent of the United States’ stockpile of antiquated chemical munitions, which has been stored at DCD since the early 1940s.
From 1996 until Jan. 2012, under an international treaty signed by 190 nations to rid the Earth of chemical munitions, DCD’s massive incinerator began to thermally destroy 1.14 million chemical munitions that contained over 27 million pounds of mustard gas, lewisite and nerve agent.
Just how much is 27 million pounds? It’s a lot. For a sense of scale, think of 2,368 fully-grown African Elephants. Or 1,047 fully loaded school buses. Or better yet, 30 fully-loaded Boeing 747s.
During last Thursday’s closure ceremony, Pomeroy didn’t mince words about the colossal and highly hazardous mission DCD’s workers faced every day.
“The amount of chemical weapons once stored here is mind-boggling,” he said. “Knowing that a single drop of the [nerve] agent VX can kill a human, and then comparing that to more than 13,600 tons of [chemical] agent that was once here, is a scary thought. These were terrible weapons and their elimination at DCD has made the world a safer place.”
Amazingly, despite titanic amounts of lethal chemical weapons, many of which were in old containers that dated back to the 1940s and beyond, work-time accidents and accidental releases were reportedly few. Nobody died from exposure, and only a handful of incidents occurred — which stands as a testimony to employees’ commitment to safety, and the facility’s technology and equipment.
Tooele County has a long-standing, yet not entirely well-known history of playing an important role in ending the war with Japan and World War II. The flight crews who dropped the atomic bomb on Nagasaki and Hiroshima finely tuned their flying and bombing skills at Wendover Army Airbase before heading to the South Pacific in August 1945.
Now with DCD’s work done, it is hoped Tooele County will also be recognized as the first place in the world where chemical munitions were safely and verifiably destroyed on a large scale. It is also hoped the county’s 70-year-old reputation of being the military’s harbor for chemical munitions will quickly fade.
DCD and its workers are acknowledged for a job well done. Global peace may remain an abstract wish, but Pomeroy was right. The world indeed is a safer place.