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Army tackles $1.3B task to demolish incinerators

| Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 8:24 p.m.
Workers carry out the process of demolishing a chemical waste incinerator at the Anniston Army Depot in Anniston, Ala.

ANNISTON, Ala. — The Pentagon spent $10.2 billion over three decades burning tons of deadly nerve gas and other chemical weapons stored in four states — some of the agents so deadly that even a few drops can kill.

Now with all those chemicals up in smoke and communities freed of a threat, the Army is in the middle of another, $1.3 billion project: demolishing the incinerators that destroyed the toxic materials.

In Alabama, Oregon, Utah and Arkansas, crews are tearing apart multibillion-dollar incinerators or working to draw the curtain on a drama that began in the Cold War, when the United States and the former Soviet Union stockpiled millions of pounds of chemical weapons.

Construction work continues at two other sites where technology other than incineration will be used to neutralize agents chemically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

At the incinerator complex at the Anniston Army Depot — where sarin, VX nerve gas and mustard gas were stored about 55 miles east of Birmingham — the military said last week that it's about one-third of the way into a $310 million program to level a gigantic furnace that cost $2.4 billion to build and operate.

Tim Garrett, the government site project manager, said officials considered other uses for the incinerator, but the facility was too specialized to convert. The law originally allowing chemical incineration required demolition once the work was done.

The military said the incineration program cost $11.5 billion in all, with the cost of tearing down the four facilities included from the start.

While opponents of the incinerators predicted dire consequences and the possibility of floating clouds of nerve gas in the event of an accident, the CDC said no nearby residents were exposed to or harmed by chemical agents.

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