Mustard gas shells to be destroyed
A CACHE of 144 World War II mustard gas shells uncovered in Western Downs bush land is to be destroyed a stone’s throw away from where they have been buried for 65 years.
A portable destruction system has been assembled on a former US military depot at Columboola between Chinchilla and Miles.
It features a 70-tonne destruction chamber and a filtration system designed to completely neutralise the deadly chemical agent contained in the 105mm and 155mm Howitzer shells.
Mustard gas was used in chemical warfare, particularly in World War I, with effects including blistering of the skin and lungs if inhaled.
The shells were stored at Columboola as part of a defence network in World War II because the depot was out of range of Japanese bomb attacks.
Contract destruction company CH2M HILL project manager Steve Romanow said the highly technical detonation and filtration system was one of very few in the world.
“This system is incredibly over-engineered and for good reason,” Mr Romanow said.
“We are dealing with some nasty stuff.”
He said setting the destruction system up on site eliminated the risk involved in moving the unexploded shells to another destination.
System testing will begin this week with the first chemical shells expected to be detonated before April 4.
“We hope to get through eight to 10 (shells) a day.”
A team of seven Queensland Fire and Rescue Service HAZMAT specialists from Brisbane have set up a decontamination facility about 500 metres from the destruction chamber in case any chemicals leak.
Department of Defence environmental impact management director Colin Trinder said the new facility would remain at Columboola for a couple of months while survey and excavation work on the 720 hectare site continued.
“Indications are that there are a lot (of buried munitions) there still to be found,” Mr Trinder said.
“The 144 shells are likely to be the tip of the iceberg.”