chapter  5
28 Pages

Johnston Island: destruction of the US chemical weapons stockpile

Chemical weapons were first used during the First World War – with well over a million casualties and almost 100,000 deaths, including more than 50,000 Russians. The United States, concerned about potential use of these weapons against our troops, built a chemical weapons arsenal during the First World War, and that stockpile steadily increased. The United States began destroying the weapons during the late 1960s, under the so-called CHASE program (“cut holes and sink ‘em”). In 1985, decades after building the second largest chemical weapons arsenal (the USSR had more weapons), Congress ordered the US Army to destroy its aging chemical weapons stockpile. Many of the weapons had become a threat to US soldiers, workers, and nearby populations. Congress was persuaded that some weapons could accidentally detonate and/or self-ignite. The 31,500 metric tons of weapons were stored at eight sites on the continental United States and at Johnston Island, an atoll about 800 miles from Hawaii (Figure 5.1).