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September 20, 2013

Rockets in Ky. show destroying nerve gas arms not easy

(Continued)

A bunny hutch housed a critical part of the monitoring system. A trio of rabbits spent the night in any bunker scheduled for human inspection, which went forward if they survived.

"I would put one in the back, one in the center and one in the front, then leave them there overnight," Anglin said. "The next day, if the rabbits were OK, we'd go in. Once in a while, you'd get a dead rabbit," Anglin said.

The government no longer uses animals as air monitors, Elzea said in an email.

Most depot neighbors knew nothing of the weapons. They learned of their existence after the Defense Department announced plans to incinerate the deadly chemicals in 1984, according to Williams, 65, the advisory board member.

Convinced that burning them could spread contaminants accidentally, the community fought with the Army for the next 12 years. Houses and a school were a little more than a mile from the depot site, Williams said: "It's not like we're in the middle of the desert here."

The fight ended in 1996 when Congress passed a law requiring the Pentagon to investigate alternative technologies. Williams blames the Defense Department for the delay. "They decided how they were going to do it without consulting with the community," he said.

Alternative disposal technologies now are on track to be used at both the Kentucky and Colorado depots.

In Colorado, a factory that will destroy the mustard gas arsenal will be complete in 2015, and the last weapons will be annihilated in 2019.

In Kentucky, the partnership of Bechtel National and Parsons Infrastructure and Technology Group Inc., of Pasadena, Calif., is building a robotized plant that will separate the chemicals from the weapons, then turn them into water, carbon dioxide and salts, using a combination of heat, water, caustics and pressure. The last weapon will be gone in 2023.

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