WWI chemical weapon found at arsenal
DENVER ” Crews digging a trench as part of the ongoing cleanup of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal discovered the presence of lewisite, a chemical warfare agent developed for use in World War I and produced at the site in 1943.
The discovery Wednesday led to the closure of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, created on parts of the 17,000 acre site, once a classified chemical munitions plant 10 miles northeast of downtown Denver.
“This work was in an area of the arsenal that was known for disposal of chemical agents,” Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado Chief Medical Officer said in a statement Thursday. “The closure of the refuge is the appropriate precautionary measure until we are certain there is no risk to human health.”
Workers, who were wearing protective clothing, were decontaminated and none showed any symptoms of coming into contact with the blistering agent. State health officials said none of the lewisite was detected in the air outside of the 5 acre work site.
More than 12,000 acres of the site have been removed from the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Superfund Clean-Up site and turned into a wildlife refuge.
Areas part of the Superfund site include former processing areas, waste disposal sites, munitions demolition areas, as well as some structures, roads and drainage areas.
Crews were working in an area that was used to destroy mustard agent.
The discovery of the chemical agent is part of several incidents announced over the years. Crews discovered a sarin-filled bomb inside the walls of a plant that apparently had rolled off a conveyor belt during manufacturing and wedged itself there.
Later while removing industrial waste from a scrap pile in 1999, workers found an M-139 bomblet, a grapefruit-sized sphere filled with 1.3 pounds of sarin, which kills humans the same way pesticides kill bugs.
Crews found at least 10 such spheres, some containing sarin, during clean up between 1999 and 2001 that were destroyed with explosives and chemicals.
On the Net: http://www.cdphe.state.co.us/epr/news.html