After long fight, chemical weapons stored in Kentucky will soon be destroyed — safely
For decades, families in Madison County have lived alongside more than 500 tons of deadly chemical weapons stored at the Blue Grass Army Depot. Now, after years of engagement from the local community, the Depot will begin safely destroying its stockpile. I was honored recently to join this community to cut the ribbon and begin sending these awful weapons to the ash heap of history where they belong.
The use of chemical weapons has haunted humanity for generations. Their name conjures nightmarish scenes of masked soldiers in World War I trenches. During the Second World War, Nazis used chemical weapons to exterminate their Jewish victims and the Japanese experimented with them on human subjects. Such atrocities are regrettably not just a matter of the past. Even recently, Syria has engaged in chemical attacks against its own people, and the regime’s ally, Russia, has recklessly used advanced nerve agents abroad to target its political opponents.
The U.S. and its allies must continue to condemn the modern use of these vile weapons and punish those who deploy them.
As part of our own commitment to stigmatizing these weapons, we are finally close to destroying America’s remaining chemical stockpile. For more than 30 years and through dozens of visits to Madison County, I’ve had the privilege to fight alongside Kentuckians and lead the federal effort to do just that.
However, the manner in which we dispose of these weapons had vital safety implications for families in Madison County. We have to do it in the safest manner possible. When I first came to the Senate, the Army was preparing to destroy the Depot’s chemical agents using a method the community thought to be unsafe. Kentuckians were afraid the facility hadn’t properly accounted for the many risks involved in the process. Perhaps most concerning was the danger to the children who went to school near the facility.
Convincing the Army to change course and use the safest disposal method, instead of the least expensive or most immediate, wasn’t easy. Among my many allies in the community was Craig Williams, an incredible local leader who poured over every detail until he became the leading expert on the Depot. Working with Craig and the community, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work.
I introduced a bill in 1986, shortly after I got to the Senate, to stop any new shipments of chemical weapons into Kentucky. I also began meeting with the Army’s decision-makers, both at the Depot and at the Pentagon. Every one of them would know that the disposal of Kentucky’s deadly arsenal was a top priority for me and my constituents.
Over our strong objections, however, the bureaucrats in charge kept advancing their plans for incineration. We knew there had to be a safer way.
In 1996, I introduced a bill creating the Assembled Chemical Weapons Alternatives program (ACWA), an organization tasked with identifying and demonstrating at least two responsible alternatives to the Army’s plan.
While we had been told that no realistic alternatives could possibly exist, ACWA’s assessment found multiple methods. With this new research in hand, we finally had genuine options to safely destroy these weapons and protect families in Madison County.
With input from the community, I consistently fought to secure federal resources to test each of the possible alternatives to the Army’s plan. We encountered obstacles along the way—President Clinton even threatened to veto an entire government funding bill because of one of my provisions to protect Madison County. But he eventually relented, and I kept fighting for you.
Every step of the way, I was proud to champion this cause and deliver the federal funding to construct the new state-of-the-art facility that will safely dispose of these dangerous agents. It’s exactly what I was elected to do. Now, as Senate Majority Leader, I’m in a better place than ever to bring national attention to this issue and to deliver for Kentucky families.
The safe chemical destruction process beginning soon at the Blue Grass Army Depot will bring us one step closer to ending this threat once and for all. Throughout my entire Senate career, it’s been my privilege to be the community’s voice in Washington on this important project and to support the Army personnel and contractors who work at the Depot, which has an economic footprint totaling more than one billion dollars. I’ll continue working for this community to help the Depot and its highly skilled workforce.
I’d like to thank everyone who has worked at the Blue Grass Army Depot, who has joined our cause, and who has made their voice heard over the years. Together, we are making Kentucky a safer place—not only for us and our children, but also for countless generations who will follow.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is the Senate Majority Leader.