Officials consider storing VX byproduct at Newport

July 2, 2003
Associated Press

NEWPORT, IN -- Officials are considering temporarily storing at the Newport Chemical Depot nearly 1 million gallons of a chemical produced by the destruction of the deadly VX nerve agent.

Parsons Engineering, the company the Army hired to build and operate the VX disposal plant, has obtained military approval to explore building a tank farm to store the byproduct, hydrolysate, said Jeff Brubaker, Army site project manager.

Neutralizing VX is expected to produce about 900,000 gallons of hydrolysate, but the depot has tanks to store only 30,000 -- about one week's worth of neutralization.

The neutralization plant was completed last month, and the Army plans to begin destroying VX in October. It wants to take the byproduct to a treatment plant in Dayton, but some Ohio residents are opposing the plan.

Building a tank farm at the depot about 30 miles north of Terre Haute would ensure the VX destruction could continue if the byproduct could not be shipped to Ohio, the Tribune-Star reported Wednesday.

Parsons would hire a subcontractor to design the tank farm and build the tanks off-site, said Rick Rife, Parson's deputy project manager.

The tanks, with a capacity of as much as 50,000 gallons, could be placed on two acres near the disposal plant, Brubaker said. Parsons would first have to obtain a permit from the state Department of Environmental Management.

Delaying the neutralization operation because there was no storage would be more costly than investing in a tank farm, said Army spokeswoman Terry Arthur.

Even if the hydrolysate cannot be taken to Dayton, the contractor, Perma-Fix, has other facilities across the country that might be able to handle it, officials said.

Hydrolysate, a caustic liquid with properties similar to drain pipe cleaner, must be treated to reduce the alkalinity.

"We are committed to start and complete the destruction of VX as quickly and safely as possible," Brubaker said.

The international treaty that ordered the destruction of the VX requires testing to show that the chemicals left over after it is neutralized cannot be reconstituted.

"This must be done so someone can't take the components and put the agent back together," said Glen D. Shonkwiler, chief environmental engineer for the Newport disposal plant.

VX is so deadly that even a tiny amount of the thick, oily liquid can kill if it is inhaled or comes in contact with skin. The Newport depot stores 1,269 tons of VX in steel containers.

The Cold War-era chemical depot was built in 1961 to produce VX. Production was stopped in 1968, but the stockpile remained.

The deadly nerve agent was scheduled to be destroyed by April 2007 under the Chemical Weapons Convention international treaty. Following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Congress last year ordered the Army to destroy all stockpiled chemical weapons by 2004.