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Aberdeen Proving Ground team completes destruction of Syrian chemical weapons

A team of scientists from Aberdeen Proving Ground has completed the historic mission of destroying the most dangerous of Syria's declared chemical weapons stocks, Pentagon officials said Monday.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called Navy Capt. Rich Dromerhauser on Monday morning to congratulate the team of some 64 civilians and contractors aboard the MV Cape Ray, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

The chemists and engineers from the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground worked for more than a month aboard the specially fitted container ship to neutralize 600 tons of chemicals, including the World War I blister agent sulfur mustard and the sarin precursor DF.

Officials have said the first-ever shipboard destruction of the weapons, performed under heavy international guard in the Mediterranean Sea, could serve as a model for future efforts to eradicate chemical weapons from the world's arsenals.

With the world watching, Hagel told Dromerhauser, the team performed "flawlessly," according to Kirby. After waiting months to receive the entire declared stocks, members destroyed the chemicals in less than the 60 to 120 days that officials had estimated.

The work was monitored by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. When destruction of 581 tons of DF was completed last week, Secretary-General Ahmet Üzümcü thanked the United States for performing the job in "a safe and environmentally sound manner."

Syrian President Bashar Assad agreed to surrender the weapons last year amid international outrage over a chemical attack near Damascus that reportedly killed hundreds of civilians.

The attack was among the bloodiest incidents in the four-year-old conflict between the regime and rebel fighters that has left more than 100,000 dead, displaced more than a quarter of the Syrian population and fed the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the force now threatening Iraq.

The Edgewood specialists used equipment they designed and built specifically for the mission. The Cape Ray was fitted with two units of the new Field Deployable Hydrolysis System, based on the technology used to destroy the U.S. stock of mustard agent at Aberdeen Proving Ground under the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997.

System operators do not handle the materials directly; the chemicals and their neutralizing agents are mixed in a closed container, and the resulting effluent is discharged into closed containers. The operators wear masks with air hoses.

The effluent, a caustic liquid that some have likened to Drano, is now to be taken to disposal facilities in Finland and Germany.

matthew.brown@baltsun.com

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