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Anniston incinerator destroys last VX rocket

ANNISTON (AP) — A chemical weapons incinerator in East Alabama has finished destroying the most dangerous part of a huge munitions stockpile dating back to the Cold War: Almost 36,000 rockets filed with VX, the most lethal nerve agent.

The incinerator, which began operations in 2003 at the Anniston Army Depot, incinerated the last VX rocket stored at the facility Thursday night, said Terry Sholin of Westinghouse Anniston, the Army's lead contractor on the project.

Besides 35,636 rockets, workers also destroyed 26 warheads loaded with VX, Sholin said Friday.

The rockets were considered the most hazardous part of the stockpile because they were loaded with explosive propellant and contained VX, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes as being so toxic it can kill a person within minutes.

With the United States facing a treaty deadline of 2012 to destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons, the incinerator will install new equipment and begin destroying artillery shells loaded with VX, said Sholin.

"We still have 155 mm VX shells and VX mines," he said.

The incinerator will also destroy tons of mustard gas munitions stored at the depot, which is located about 50 miles east of Birmingham. It previously burned 142,428 weapons loaded with sarin, including more than 42,000 rockets.

Despite stiff opposition from environmental groups and other critics during construction, officials say the incinerator has operated safely. With the destruction of all the rockets, the risk posed by old weapons stored at the depot has dropped by 96 percent, according to Army estimates.

"I think the facility has performed remarkably well, and the people who are doing the job are doing remarkably well in a very high-hazard type of environment," said Tim Garrett, the Army's project manager at the incinerator.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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