PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — The U.S. Army plans to start trucking hazardous wastewater next week from a chemical weapons destruction plant in Colorado to an incineration facility in Texas because the Colorado plant isn’t yet fully operational, officials said Friday.
The incinerator in Port Arthur, Texas, will destroy about 250,000 gallons (946,000 liters) of wastewater from the Pueblo Chemical Depot. Shipments from the southern Colorado plant to Port Arthur, about a 1,400-mile (2,200-kilometer) trek, could start Monday, depot spokesman Tom Schultz said.
Pueblo is dismantling and neutralizing shells containing mustard agent but can’t yet process all of the wastewater. The shipments to Texas are expected to take a month to complete, and by that time, the Pueblo depot should be able to process all wastewater on-site.
The waste is primarily saltwater but could irritate human skin because it contains caustic chemicals used to neutralize the mustard. Officials say the wastewater contains no mustard agent.
Colorado state agencies approved the plan, and authorities along the shipping route have been notified, Schultz said. Each truck’s two drivers are trained first responders, and their progress will be tracked by satellite.
Veolia North America, which operates the incinerator, has handled similar wastewater shipments from chemical weapons facilities in Indiana and elsewhere.
“We are doing everything we can to make sure this goes smoothly,” Schultz said. “We’re sensitive to the public’s concerns because it was at one time mustard agent.”
Mustard agent can maim or kill by blistering skin, scarring eyes and inflaming airways. Under most conditions, it’s a thick liquid, not a gas. It is colorless and almost odorless but got its name because impurities made early versions smell like mustard.
The $4.5 billion Pueblo plant is destroying more than 780,000 shells filled with 2,500 tons (2.3 million kilograms) of mustard agent under an international treaty. It’s the largest remaining stockpile of chemical weapons in the U.S.
So far, it has destroyed more than 38,500 shells and more than 227 tons (200 metric tons) of chemical agent, Schultz said.
A leak delayed one of the last steps in the process — removing salts and other chemicals from the water and converting them to a solid that can be taken to a hazard waste dump. The water would then be re-used in the plant.
The leak has been repaired and officials hope that part of the plant will be operating soon — eliminating the need for more wastewater shipments, Schultz said.