The United States has destroyed the last of its chemical weapons. This means that the last known chemical weapons in the world are gone. The event marks the end of a long effort to get rid of all chemical weapons worldwide.
Chemical weapons hurt or kill people by poisoning them with chemicals. These kinds of weapons have been around for a long time, but most countries agree that they are against the law.
Chemical weapons were first widely used over a hundred years ago, during World War I. They had horrible and deadly effects, shocking people on all sides of the war. By 1925, the world’s countries agreed to make it illegal to use chemical weapons in a war. But even after that, many countries kept developing and making chemical weapons.
But in 1997, an agreement called the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) came into effect. The CWC was signed by most of the world’s countries – 193 of them. The countries which signed the CWC agreed to get rid of all their chemical weapons.
At one point, the US had over 60 million pounds (27.2 million kilograms) of chemical weapons. The deadline for the US to destroy all of its chemical weapons was September 30, 2023.
But getting rid of chemical weapons isn’t easy. Not only do the weapons explode, they also contain dangerous chemicals. They were never meant to be taken apart. Many of the US’s chemical weapons were made in the 1940s. Because they were so old, it was possible they could go off by accident. That meant they had to be destroyed with extreme care.
The US worked for years to destroy its chemical weapons. By 2023, all of the US’s remaining chemical weapons were at two military depots (storage areas) – one in Colorado, and the other in Kentucky.
The most common way to destroy chemical weapons is to burn them at temperatures as high as 1,500º Fahrenheit (816º Celsius). But people living near the depots in the US strongly protested against burning the chemical weapons. They were afraid the toxic chemicals might be released and harm the people nearby.
So the US military had to find other ways to get rid of the weapons safely. The current process uses robots to remove the chemicals from the devices. The toxic chemicals are then treated to make them safe.
Last Friday, the US destroyed its last chemical weapon at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky. By doing so, it joined other countries like the United Kingdom, India, and Russia, which got rid of their chemical weapons years ago.
Getting rid of these weapons worldwide is a big step. It shows that if countries really want to, they can stop using certain kinds of weapons.
Currently, only three countries – Egypt, North Korea, and South Sudan – still have not signed the CWC. The hope is that they will see what the US and other countries have done and decide to do the same.
Did You Know…?
The US expected that it would cost $1.4 billion to destroy its chemical weapons. In the end, it took nearly $42 billion to get the job done.