The US will soon finish destroying its last chemical weapons

Workers in hazmat suits.
(Image credit: Joe Amon/The Denver Post via Getty Images)

As soon as June 7, the U.S. is slated to reach a milestone "in the history of warfare dating back to World War I," The Associated Press reported: the destruction of its last chemical weapons.

The country has been working for decades to "eliminate a stockpile that by the end of the Cold War totaled more than 30,000 tons," and is currently racing against a Sept. 30 deadline implemented by the international Chemical Weapons Convention. The remaining munitions include the last of the 51,000 GB nerve agent-filled rockets that have been stored at Kentucky's Blue Grass Army Depot since 1940, per the AP.

"One thing that we're really proud of is how we're finishing the mission. We're finishing it for good for the United States of America," Kim Jackson, manager of another destruction plant in Colorado, told the AP. Workers at that plant finished eliminating a "cache of about 2,600 tons of mustard blister agent" on June 22.

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In Kentucky, staffers used a process called neutralization to "dilute the deadly agents so they can be safely disposed of." At the Colorado site, they used robotic equipment to disassemble the weapon and neutralize the mustard agent. Both plants were "the last among several," including in Utah, Alabama, Oregon, Arkansas, and the Johnston Atoll.

What this shows is that "countries can really ban a weapon of mass destruction," Paul Walker, vice chairman of the Arms Control Association and coordinator of the Chemical Weapons Convention Coalition, told the AP. "If they want to do it, it just takes the political will and it takes a good verification system."

Still, it's not easy. At this point, the effort is wrapping up "decades behind schedule" and "2,900% over budget," The New York Times reported. It took so long in part to ensure surrounding communities weren't harmed in the process.

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Brigid Kennedy

Brigid is a staff writer at The Week and a graduate of Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Her passions include improv comedy, David Fincher films, and breakfast food. She lives in New York.