Exactly 70 years after opening as a chemical depot, the book was officially closed on Deseret Chemical Depot today.
In a ceremony filled with nostalgia and reminiscence, DCD’s last commander, Col. Mark Pomeroy, put away the depot’s colors, officially handed over the key to the installation to Tooele Army Depot Commander Col. Roger McCreery, and expressed hope that the depot’s legacy would continue in its new incarnation.
“I’m happy to celebrate a day 70 years in the making,” he said. “While DCD will no longer be a chemical depot, it will live on with a new mission centered on conventional munitions.”
DCD, which has undergone a host of name and boundary changes since its designation as a chemical depot in 1943, is now again part of Tooele Army Depot as its South Area. Conventional munitions have already begun to be stored in repurposed igloos that were originally designed to hold chemical weapons.
The last of the 1.1 million chemical weapons once held at DCD were destroyed in January 2012, and final cleanup has been ongoing for the past 18 months.
“The amount of chemical weapons once stored here is mind-boggling,” said Pomeroy. “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.”
Brig. Gen. Kristin French said the amount of agent disposed at DCD, which at its height stored 44 percent of the nation’s stockpile of chemical weapons, was staggering.
“What employees have accomplished here in the last 70 years is nothing short of amazing,” she said. “I commend every one of you who have carried out this mission.”
Beyond disposing of munitions and agent, innovations piloted at the depot have continued development and use among other such facilities — especially changes about workforce safety6, said Don Barclay, director of the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity (CMA) and past risk manager for the Chemical Agent Munitions Disposal System (CAMDS) at DCD.
“When I look at Deseret Chemical Depot, and the 20-year journey I’ve had, looking at it from up close and then from far away, this is really a place that has shaped the Army,” he said.
When he began working for the Army as a safety manager in the early 80s, Barclay said he was told to look for ways to reduce the fatality rate in military production operations, which seemed like a daunting task. That goal changed in the mid-90s when he was assigned to CAMDS to reduce the reportable injury rate — a goal that seemed nearly impossible.
But from an annual rate of four or five reportable injuries, meaning those that require more than basic first aid for care, safety implementations and procedures sent that number on a downward spin. In June, DCD reached a reportable injury rate of zero.
Barclay said the procedures and practices started at DCD have now become commonplace throughout Army installations, both within and outside of chemical programs.
“What began as kind of an unattainable challenge has come to fruition across the CMA, across [Army Material Command] and the Army,” he said.
Barclay also noted the strength of the personnel and cooperation of the workforce had with industrial regulators and the public. Despite knowing they would be unemployed when their job was done, he said, they worked quickly to complete their mission.
“You worked yourself out of a job fast. You didn’t slow down because you wouldn’t have a job,” he said. “You worked fast and efficiently.”
As of Thursday, 94 percent of the 400 or so employees at DCD had left voluntarily or found work elsewhere, leaving 20 still looking for work. Pomeroy said DCD’s human resources department had been working tirelessly to help those remaining 20 people find new employment.
Pomeroy said the task of trying to close an installation while simultaneously trying to help its workforce find future employment was difficult; some workers volunteered to stay until the end, and others came out of retirement in order to help plan and carry out Thursday’s ceremony.
“Closing a depot’s not an easy task, and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” he said. “People use the analogy of building an aircraft while in flight; for us it was just the opposite. It was like dismantling an aircraft in flight.”
When Pomeroy became commander of DCD three years ago, it was with full knowledge that he would be the depot’s last. When TEAD Commander Col. Chris Mohan, who relinquished his post to Col. Roger McCreery Wednesday, began his job two years ago, the two commanders immediately started working to create a plan for transition, Pomeroy said.
“At the top of our priorities was to conduct a smooth, seamless transition to the depot,” Pomeroy said. “As we ramped down our operations, we began to ramp up TEAD’s operations, so that TEAD would be fully operational when we closed. I can honestly tell you, this transition has gone wonderfully.”
Mohan agreed, and said he was proudest about the relatively low impact to the workforce.
“If you look at the Tooele [Army Depot] staff today, there are a lot of familiar faces, and with that, that really helped our transition,” Mohan said. “So we’ve got a great cross-fertilization as we move forward now.”
That cross-fertilization includes two employees who are over environmental remediation of some areas that are still in need of final clean-up before getting a clean bill of health from the state.
Of the 31 Solid Waste Management Units, or SWMUs, which are sections of land in which waste was incorrectly disposed of decades ago, half have been cleared by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s Division of Solid and Hazardous Waste. The rest are in various stages of clearance.
French commended the depot on its effort to dispose of dangerous materials in an economically friendly way, as well as the safety improvements made to the surrounding community because of DCD’s operations.
“The original goal was to leave the site better than they found it, and they have certainly achieved that lofty goal,” she said. “Your legacy of good stewardship will be carried forward by devoted staff of Tooele Army Depot and the Joint Munitions Command.”
In addition to tainted areas of land being cleaned and cleared, a portion of the area — 500 acres — will be used by Utah State University to grow safflower, to be used in developing a new type of diesel fuel.
Pomeroy, who is retiring from active duty in November to pursue teaching, said he was grateful to the five generations of workers that made the mission possible, as well as the divine watch he believed made their efforts successful.
“I thank God for blessing DCD over these past 70 years. I thank Him for protecting our workforce, for helping so many to find jobs as we close,” Pomeroy said. “I pray that He will continue to bless those who work here for Tooele Army Depot in years to come.”