Since 1991 the Kentucky Environmental Foundation and the Chemical Weapons Working Group have worked to change the way that dangerous chemical weapons are disposed of. The U.S. Army ordered all such weapons destroyed by incineration in 1985, but these organizations worked to make sure that this did not happen and instead research was conducted to provide a safer means of disposal. In 1996 they became successful with the passage of Public Law 104-208, which created the Assembled Chemical Weapons Assessment program that was charged with identifying alternative methods of weapons disposal. In Kentucky, the method chosen was neutralization followed by supercritical water oxidation for which the Blue Grass Chemical Agent-Destruction Pilot Plant is being constructed.
Neutralization and supercritical water oxidation (SCWO) work by first disassembling the munitions and mixing the reagents inside with water or caustic materials. This mixing renders destroys the active chemical reagents via hydrolysis and the resulting compounds, known as hydrolysates, are tested to ensure that the harmful chemical agents are actually destroyed. After this, these compounds are subjected to extreme heat and pressure, effectively reducing what was once a dangerous chemical to carbon dioxide and salts. The metal munitions themselves are washed out using high pressure water and temperature treated, after which the metal parts can be safely recycled.
In 2011 it was determined that some of the munitions could not be destroyed using neutralization and SCWO, as the chemical reagents inside had solidified and were no longer suitable for disposal by these means, and because of this another alternative method, an Explosive Destruction Technology (EDT), is being considered. The stance of KEF and the Kentucky Chemical Weapon Destruction Citizens’ Advisory Board can be seen in this letter to the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives (ACWA) Program Executive Officer.