February 17, 2005

New Device Destroys Biological Weapons

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) -- A device used by the Army to dispose of old chemical munitions can also be used to destroy biological weapons, according to a report released by Sandia National Laboratories.

Over the past year, scientists at the labs' Livermore, Calif., facility successfully killed anthrax-like bacteria in the device, the lab said. Modifications to it also allow technicians to determine whether all of a biological agent has been destroyed.

"You can know you're done before you drain or open the door," said John Didlake, a project manager at the lab.

Normally carried on semitrailers, the Explosive Destruction System resembles a 12-foot-high, front loading washing machine. Bomb experts place unexploded chemical weapons inside, which are blown up and rinsed with chemicals to neutralize the bomb's payload.

"The Army was looking for an alternative to open burn, open detonation" disposal of chemical weapons, lab spokeswoman Nancy Garcia said.

Five of the chemical-weapons devices have been made since Sandia Labs developed the technology about six years ago. In a statement, lab officials were hopeful the biological tests will lead to use of the device in anti-terrorism efforts.

However, Didlake said no government agencies have plans in place yet to use them in a terrorism situation.

The Army calls in an EDS when it finds unexploded chemical weapons at former U.S. military sites. The system destroyed sarin-gas filled bombs in 2000 at the Rocky Mountain Arsenal near Denver.

It was also used to destroy a mustard-gas mortar dating back to World War I in Washington, D.C., and chemical munitions found in Alabama and Maryland.


Sandia National Laboratories