News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

July 19, 2008

Completion of VX neutralization means many things to Valley

NEWPORT — For more than 40 years, one of the last and deadliest remnants of the Cold War — 2.5-million pounds of VX — has been sitting quietly in carbon steel barrels in Vermillion County, part of a stockpile of chemical weapons the United States has been trying to dispose of for more than a decade.

As of the end of this month, the last of that substance will be eliminated, as a three-year neutralization process comes to a close.

The Newport Chemical Depot, where the deadly nerve agent VX was produced in the 1960s, has been disposing of the agent since May 2005. Currently, more than 97 percent of the stockpile has been neutralized.

The completion of the project will mean different things to various people. For employees at the Depot, many of whom have spent the better part of their careers at the facility, the end is bittersweet. The citizens of west-central Indiana who have feared the worst in the event of a spill, leak or explosion are beginning to feel a sense of relief.

For the facility itself, time will tell how the secure, 7,000-acre property will be used in the future.

Chemical Warfare

The VX stockpile was produced at the Newport complex between 1961 and 1968 as a weapon in case of a nuclear or other attack. VX — the most toxic nerve agent ever created, according to the Council on Foreign Relations — was never used by the American military. There have been no deaths from VX at the Depot.

Newport is one of nine chemical agent disposal or destruction installations in the United States. The others are in Colorado, Kentucky, Alabama, Arkansas, Maryland, Utah, Oregon and off the coast of Hawaii. Of the overall amount of chemical weapons created and stored in the United States, the stockpile at Newport represented about 4 percent. The facility in Utah had the largest percentage of chemical weapons stored, with 44 percent of the U.S. stockpile. Only the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System, off the coast of Hawaii, has completed destruction of its chemical weapons. Several other facilities are in the midst of disposal efforts, and some have not yet begun.

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