The Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele County used to be home to nearly half of America’s chemical weapons stockpile, which included agents so deadly that only a few drops could prove fatal. Civilized nations across the world have signed treaties banning these weapons, and the United States has even gone to war to prevent other nations from deploying them.
But last year, the incinerator in Rush Valley finished the destruction of all of the chemical agents on site, and now the facility itself is to be demolished. Similar incinerators in Alabama, Arkansas, and Oregon also are scheduled to be torn down, having completed the task for which they were constructed. The end result is an America free of chemical weapons in its arsenal.
That should be cause for celebration.
Chemical warfare is a hideous thing for a number of reasons. It’s well known that these weapons are extraordinarily virulent and cause gruesome and painful deaths. But they also are nearly impossible to control or contain, which makes them ineffective on the battlefield and prone to dissemination among the population at large.
Mustard gas, for instance, doesn’t discriminate between soldiers and civilians, and a stray breeze can carry such agents far afield from where they’re intended. Those who handle such weapons put themselves at risk of exposure, which makes the task of disposing of them a difficult and dangerous one.
That’s what makes the Deseret Chemical Depot’s accomplishment so remarkable. Crews destroyed thousands of tons of some of the most toxic materials on the planet with an exceptionally low injury rate.
True, there was a great deal of controversy over the years as safety questions were raised while the weapons were incinerated. But such questions were necessary and entirely appropriate. When even the slightest lapse in safety standards could result in the end of a human life, it’s hard to imagine any level of scrutiny being too rigorous. Now that operations have concluded, it seems clear that this was a job well done. What’s unfortunate was that it was a job that was at all necessary.
The military should be congratulated for destroying them, and for doing so safely.