More than 30 years ago, a group of Army civilian workers here joined the evolution of the nation’s chemical weapons disposal program and steered it toward what some others thought was an unattainable goal.
In 1960, Department of Defense officials recognized the need to get rid of old chemical weapons stored in several stockpiles around the United States. Early developers of the weapons had never planned for their destruction, and the aging munitions posed a potential risk. Original plans called for the development of a destruction system that could be transported via rail to each stockpile site, but these plans quickly turned into a permanent facility called the Chemical Agent Munition Disposal System (CAMDS) located in Rush Valley, Utah.
The CAMDS mission was a vital one. In essence, CAMDS became the prototype/testing ground for future chemical weapons disposal facilities within the program.
At first, CAMDS was a separate tenant of the South Area of Tooele Army Depot, now known as DCD. In 2002, the CAMDS plant was gathered under the umbrella of DCD command. Coupled with the command change was a name change, and CAMDS was newly dubbed the Oquirrh Mountain Facility (OMF). Newcomers and visitors alike had a difficult time pronouncing and spelling the new title, and workers affectionately continued to call their plant by the name it was given at its inception.
“It would be like changing my name from ‘Connie’ to ‘Sue’ after all these years,” said CAMDS worker Connie Roundy. Roundy joined CAMDS in 1982 as secretary to the Operations Branch and played a role in the historic contributions by CAMDS personnel.
The original CAMDS staff embodied richly diverse educational backgrounds and expertise, a tradition that continues today. From the mid-1970s, CAMDS workers quickly adapted to changing technologies and created new paths toward ridding the nation of its chemical weapons. Skill requirements ran the gamut from safety to environmental workers, laboratory technicians, administrative and engineering specialists. The one element central to each member of the CAMDS work force was pride.
“Everyone at CAMDS knew he or she was providing a major contribution to the future elimination of chemical weapons,” said Steve Mallen, former chief of the CAMDS Monitoring Branch. Mallen began work at CAMDS in 1976 when the site was still in the design and setup phase. In 1979, the first M55 rocket containing the nerve agent GB (sarin) ran through the Rocket Demilitarization Machine and destruction at CAMDS commenced. By April 1981, one month ahead of schedule, CAMDS workers had completed the destruction of 13,951 rockets and the neutralization of 127,290 lbs of GB from the Tooele stockpile.
As years passed, the number of munitions in the chemical weapons stockpile diminished. The CAMDS workers continued to develop and test new machinery, systems and processes geared toward finding the safest and most environmentally sound technology for disposal. The list of tested systems grew and names like Agent Destruction System, Projectile Pull and Drain Machine and Nose Closure Removal Station became part of everyday vocabulary.
New tasks in the 1980s included testing the effectiveness of burning nerve agent GB, first in the Metal Parts Furnace and then, in 1985, in the newly developed Liquid Incinerator. Next, the workers addressed spray incineration of VX nerve agent and Cryofracture testing to determine their effectiveness for disposal. Cryofracture testing involved dipping the munitions and chemical agent into liquid nitrogen to freeze. Workers then placed the brittle munitions and frozen agent into the Deactivation Furnace for destruction.
The stockpile numbers continued to drop as workers drained agent from bulk containers, 105mm projectiles and rockets to test new processes. In 1986, the Deactivation Furnace was used to destroy bursters and fuzes, and in the 1990s, workers put the new Projectile Mortar Disassembly Machine through its paces to download 155mm projectiles containing mustard agent (HD) as well as agentfilled 4.2-inch smoke rounds.
Downloading these munitions consisted of pulling the fuze/ burster assemblies from the projectile bodies and then separating the fuzes from the bursters.
During the late 1990s, CAMDS workers began production of GB Hydrolysate to support the Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment (ACWA) treatability study.
Hydrolysate is the product of neutralizing chemical agent using water or a caustic decontamination liquid. The downloading of the mustard-filled 4.2-inch mortars continued successfully in 2001, and in 2002 workers tested the Projectile Washout System to remove agent and agent residue from the mortar bodies using high-pressure water. By 2004, CAMDS workers had downloaded the energetics, or explosives and initiating devices, from a total of 22,519 mustard-filled 4.2- inch mortars.
All agent work at CAMDS was performed under stringent containment and safety standards.
The safety of the workers, the community and the environment is paramount in all chemical operations. Everyone at CAMDS quickly realized the need for environmental regulations and oversight as it progressed to what is required today.
According to Mallen, “It’s what we were, and are, all about. We understand the necessity of not compromising the environment or safety.” This dedication to safety and to duty enabled the CAMDS workers to envision what became their legacy to chemical weapons destruction as this nation knows it today.
Since 1979, CAMDS workers’ contributions have reduced the DCD chemical weapons stockpile by 359,699 pounds of chemical agent. They have destroyed 40,507 chemical munitions and bulk containers as well as 10,096 Category III munitions and bulk containers. In addition, they have downloaded 48,402 chemical munitions readying them for disposal. In 2005, the CAMDS legacy continues as workers embark on a new mission to destroy the secondary waste that has been generated during years of chemical agent operations.
Today, Connie Roundy is detailed to the DCD Commander’s Office as temporary secretary.
“Who knows yet if I’ll stay here or return to CAMDS when this detail is complete,” Roundy said “Whatever happens, I always will be grateful for the chance to work at CAMDS and for the chance it gave me to be a small part of this nation’s chemical weapons elimination program.” Oh, by the way, it’s once again officially known as CAMDS.