Nerve gas, mustard agent and Sarin are all words most of us would like to never hear pronounced. Along with biological agents and nuclear weapons, they are among the most sinister tools of modern warfare.
So feared are they that they are banned under the Geneva Convention's rules of war and have rarely been used. On those occasions when they have been inflicted on populations, mostly by the Iraqi regime of more than a decade ago, the results have been horrifying, even compared to more conventional forms of warfare.
Yet we in Harford County have these weapons plenty close to home on Aberdeen Proving Ground. Though they are outlawed for use by countries like the U.S. which sign on to the Geneva Convention, they remain at military installations like APG largely for testing purposes. That is to say, according to the military, they are used to test protective equipment for our troops should they ever encounter an enemy that doesn't abide by the Geneva Convention's rules of war.
And, given the U.S. Armed Forces' penchant for experimentation, research and development, there's probably research going on to test the limits of what kinds of chemical weapons others might be developing to use against us.
To those of us who have lived in close proximity to Aberdeen Proving Ground for any length of time, that such deadly things are so nearby is hardly shocking. Perhaps that's why only a handful of people turned out last week for a hearing on the military's plans for disposing of such chemicals.
This stuff, and chemicals like it — and probably some every bit as dangerous most of us have never heard of — have been part and parcel of what goes on at APG for generations. It's nothing to be cavalier about, because the stakes are high. But it's also nothing to be particularly surprised or alarmed by because it's one of the areas of specialization on the post.