MILITARY RIDDING JOHNSTON ATOLL OF LAST CHEMICAL ARMS

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By Jan TenBruggencate Advertiser Science Writer

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (October 4, 2000 – The Honolulu Advertiser)---The Army has started the disposal of the last batch of chemical weapons stored on Johnston Atoll, and will soon start the daunting task of cleaning up an island contaminated with a range of industrial and radioactive waste.

The Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System plant, on a manmade island within an isolated lagoon 700 nautical miles southwest of Honolulu, has destroyed nearly 400,000 pounds of bombs, mortars, rockets and bulk chemical containers to date.

Last Friday, it started working on the last of the munitions, 13,302 land mines filled with the nerve agent VX. The last of the mines is expected to be destroyed by January.

Johnston was the first site where the U.S. military began destroying its chemical weapons, and the 10-year-old facility has served as a prototype for similar efforts on the Mainland.

U.S. chemical weaponry stored at Johnston included the nerve agents VX and GB, or Sarin, and the blister agent HD, also known as mustard gas.

"The Army’s final munitions campaign will be a great accomplishment, and leads up to what will become the Army’s highest achievement in the chemical stockpile disposal project yet: the closure of its first chemical weapons disposal facility," said project manager Gary McCloskey.

Johnston Atoll was the site of nuclear weapons testing in the early 1960s, which left about 25 acres its largest island, Johnston Island, contaminated with radioactive plutonium and americium. The island also has had several chemical spills that remain to be cleaned up.

The Army began storing chemical weapons there with the transport of munitions from Okinawa in 1971, followed by transfers from Germany in 1990 and the Solomon Islands in 1991.

Johnston also is a national wildlife refuge, the nesting site for millions of seabirds.

The Army is required to clean up the island before it turns it over to civilian agencies. The service says it has formed partnerships with several federal oversight agencies to plan the closing and cleanup.

For more information on the program, see the project Web site at http://www-pmcd.apgea.army.mil and, for Johnston Island, http://www-pmcd.apgea.army.mil/graphical/CSDP/SL/JACADS/index.html 

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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