Wastewater leaks at plant destroying chemical weapons

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PUEBLO, Colo. (AP) — About 450 gallons of hazardous wastewater leaked from a tank at a Colorado plant where chemical weapons are being destroyed, the Army said Friday.

There was no threat to workers or nearby communities from the Nov. 20 spill at the Pueblo Chemical Depot, officials said. The wastewater was confined to a containment area and cleaned up, site project manager Gregory Mohrman said in a written statement.

The wastewater was primarily salty water called hydrolysate, produced when mustard agent is neutralized with hot water and a caustic chemical, said Sandy Romero, a spokeswoman for Bechtel Corp., the lead contractor on the project.

The waste contained no mustard agent, she said.

The wastewater leaked when seals on a tank failed, Mohrman said. The plant shut down while the cause of the failure is investigated, and no startup date has been set.

The highly automated, $4.5 billion plant is destroying about 780,000 shells filled with 2,600 tons of mustard agent under an international treaty. The plant began operating this year and is expected to finish in 2020.

Mustard agent can maim or kill by blistering skin, scarring eyes and inflaming airways.

It is a thick liquid, not a gas as commonly believed. It is colorless and almost odorless but got its name because impurities made early versions smell like mustard.

Separately, officials said they were investigating how rainwater leaked through a liner in another containment area at the plant on Nov. 23. The area was not in use at the time.

The rainwater did not get into the plant's neutralization process, Romero said in an email.

Mohrman said state officials were notified at the time of each incident.

Asked why the broader public was not notified until Friday, Romero said officials initially thought the plant would resume operations sooner.


Follow Dan Elliott at http://twitter.com/DanElliottAP. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/dan-elliott.

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