The Rocky Mountain Arsenal, a manufacturing center of United States chemical weapons, is located in Commerce City, Colorado. It remained controversial among residents until it was closed in 1992. Since then, the US Army started to operate the site. Its location was selected because it is far from the coast and it has sufficient labor force. Its weather is ideal for outdoor work and it has the soil needed to complete the project. The location of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal is also useful because it is close to Stapleton airfield, one of the major transportation hubs in Colorado.

Map of Rocky Mountain Arsenal

History of Rocky Mountain Arsenal

During the height of World War II in 1942, the United States Army decided to purchase over 17,000 acres of land on which they are to manufacture a wide range of chemical weapons such as white phosphorus, mustard gas, and napalm as powerful deterrents during wartime. To stimulate the economic climate in the area, offset operational costs, and maintain facilities for national security, the private sectors of the industry were also encouraged to rent various facilities at the Arsenal after the war. Julius Hyman and Co. also began producing pesticides under the lease program.

In 1952, the Shell Chemical Co. acquired Julius Hyman and Co. and continued producing agricultural pesticides in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal until 1982. Currently, no chemical weapons and other related agents are being stored or produced in the arsenal. However, it still kept its status as a military installation that aims to complete the cost-effective, safe, and timely clean-up of the site. It also continues its transformation into one of the biggest wildlife refuges in the United States. The wastes that were generated during the operation of the Arsenal were already disposed of through the widely-used methods of the time.

Soon enough, additional efforts to store and dispose of liquid wastes began when the contaminated underwater that caused crop damage to the north of the Arsenal was finally discovered. Shell Chemical Co. and the US Army began an investigation to uncover the roots of the contamination problem, which eventually resulted in the Installation Restoration Program of the Army. Interim Response Actions were implemented in order to protect the environment and the surrounding community. Fourteen IRAs included the treatment of groundwater on and off-site. Today, 750 million gallons of groundwater are still being treated each year.

In 1995, the US Army, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Shell Chemical Co. came up with two important decisions that led to the transformation of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal. Their off-post and on-post record decisions provided the purpose, framework, and rationale for the succeeding clean-up actions that were accomplished at the site. To date, over half of the 31 clean-up projects that were identified in the record decisions have already been completed. The government expects to complete the entire project by 2010. The involvement of the Wildlife Service with the Arsenal also marked its historical transformation.

When the Wildlife Service realized that over 330 wildlife species of deer, burrowing owls, white pelicans, and bison inhabit the Arsenal, it decided to become involved in its pending clean-up projects. In 1992, the Congress finally passed the Rocky Mountain Arsenal Wildlife Refuge Act, which instructs the site to become a part of the wildlife refuge system once its clean-up has been completed.  In 2004 and 2006, over 12,000 acres of land were transferred from the Environmental Protection Agency to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. These land transfers officially established the Rocky Mountain Arsenal’s National Wildlife Refuge.

Rocky Mountain Arsenal vision and mission

Ten miles outside Denver, the nation’s largest clean-up program takes place. The Rocky Mountain Arsenal has completed its transformation into one of the country’s biggest recycling projects. According to Charlie Scharmann, the program manager of the US Army, recycling played a huge role in helping them reach their environmental stewardship goals. Together with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the US Army aims to convert this old military installation into an educational resource the reflects their commitment to restoring and preserving the environment. This transition is probably one of the biggest milestones in the history of the US Army.

The US Army built the Rocky Mountain Arsenal for manufacturing chemical weapons. When all manufacturing ceased in the early 1980s, Shell and the US Army finally began a clean-up for the site. When the clean-up is finished in 2010, all the parties involved expect the refuge to encompass over 15,000 acres of land and provide a safe habitat to over 300 wildlife species. As this remediation site continues its transformation into a wildlife refuge, it started to consider the conservation of the environment as its primary goal. Plans for pollution prevention and waste reduction occur under the supervision of the state, local, and federal regulatory agencies.

Interesting facts and figures

Since the remediation of this military installation began, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Shell Company, and the US Army have recycled a significant number of old materials. These include over 10,000 tons of steel from demolished structures, 1.9 million tons of crushed concrete, and 51,720 pounds of commingled materials and paper. After the demolition of Stapleton Airport runways, these organizations also recycled over 200,000 pounds of scrap metal. When the arsenal managers discovered that recycled Stapleton concrete meets industry standards, the Rocky Mountain Arsenal finally launched one of the biggest recycling projects in the United States.

The Rocky Mountain Arsenal will continue the recycling project even after the remediation period ends. The US Wildlife Service incorporated recycled materials in the process of constructing new bison corrals. It also plans to reuse fence rails and other materials that they recovered from demolished structures. The joint efforts of the US Army and the Wildlife Service will ensure that the site will remain as a useful tool for teaching future generations about the importance of environmental stewardship. Although they were not able to recycle some of the materials from past manufacturing, both Shell and the US Army are still committed to completing this seemingly ambitious recycling program.

Video – History of Rocky Mountain Arsenal