ANNISTON, Ala. - The Pentagon spent $10.2 billion over three decades burning tons of deadly nerve gas and other chemical weapons stored in four states - some of the agents so deadly even a few drops can kill.
Now, with all those chemicals up in smoke and communities freed of a threat, the Army is in the middle of another, $1.3 billion project: Demolishing the incinerators that destroyed the toxic materials.
In Alabama, Oregon, Utah and Arkansas, crews are either tearing apart multibillion-dollar incinerators or working to draw the curtain on a drama that began in the Cold War, when the United States and the former Soviet Union stockpiled millions of pounds of chemical weapons.
Construction work continues at two other sites where technology other than incineration will be used to neutralize agents chemically, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
At the incinerator complex at the Anniston Army Depot - where sarin, VX nerve gas and mustard gas were stored about 55 miles east of Birmingham - the military this week said it's about one-third of the way into a $310 million program to level a gigantic furnace that cost $2.4 billion to build and operate.
Tim Garrett, the government site project manager, said officials considered doing something else with the incinerator, but the facility was too specialized to convert for another use. Also, the law originally allowing chemical incineration required demolition once the work was done.
So teams are using large machines to knock holes in thick concrete walls and rip steel beams off the building's skeleton, which was previously decontaminated to guard against any lingering nerve agents or mustard gas. Metal pieces are being recycled, and the rest will be hauled to an ordinary landfill.
"It's the end of an era," said Garrett, a civilian.
The military said the incineration program cost $11.5 billion in all, with the cost of tearing down the four facilities built in from the start.