Madison County

450 jobs coming to Central Kentucky. Want one? First, a word about mustard gas.

Jeff Brubaker, site project manager at the Madison County plant that will destroy chemical weapons, used the glovebox at the main building where nerve agent will be destroyed.
Jeff Brubaker, site project manager at the Madison County plant that will destroy chemical weapons, used the glovebox at the main building where nerve agent will be destroyed. Greg Kocher

The plant that will destroy chemical weapons in Madison County will begin hiring hundreds of workers this year.

Beginning in February and continuing into 2018, the general contractor and associated companies at the plant will hire 450 to 500 people.

About 300 of those people will work in the main plant that will destroy nerve agent.

An additional 150 to 200 will be hired to work in a separate building that will destroy blister agent commonly called mustard gas. (It’s actually a thick liquid, not a gas. It got its name because impurities made early versions smell like mustard or horseradish.)

Hiring won’t stop this year. Employment will begin ramping up over the next several years as destruction of the weapons begins. The plant is going through a testing period to make sure all the systems work properly.

Staffing in Richmond is now about 850. But from 2019 through 2023, between 1,100 and 1,400 total will be employed at the site. Hourly wages would range between $20 and $30 for many of these jobs.

Ron Hink, general manager of Bechtel Parsons Blue Grass, the prime contractor that will oversee weapons destruction, said the plant is looking for lab technicians, lab analysts, operating engineers and others who have worked in industrial environments.

“You’ll have the foundation we need to train you,” Hink said.

People who have military experience are sought, too, because they have the discipline and “generally know how to approach high-risk work,” Hink said.

Available positions can be found at bechtelparsonsbgcapp.com. Click on employment and you can see various positions available in Richmond. The website notes workers can be a part of history “and help make the world safer” because they will “protect the environment and community.”

The Madison County plant has employees that formerly worked at similar plants in Alabama, Arkansas and other sites where chemical weapons were destroyed., Hink said.

Local officials who toured the plant Thursday said they were impressed by what they saw.

“It’s amazing to see things actually happening and moving and all the pieces coming together,” said Doug Hindman, chairman of the Citizens’ Advisory Commission, a group appointed by the governor to share concerns about weapons destruction.

George Ridings, soon to be a new member of the commission, said Thursday’s visit was his first since the plant was built.

“I’ve seen overviews and I’ve seen maps and descriptions, but to see it in person, I think all the citizens of Madison County can be very confident that it’s being done as carefully and as methodically as possible,” Ridings said.

The mustard projectiles will be heated in a steel chamber until they are destroyed. The process is called “explosive destruction technology” or EDT.

Their destruction will start first, perhaps in the spring or summer of 2019 and will end a little more than a year later.

The destruction of nerve agents VX and GB in the main plant will start in 2020 and, if all goes well, be complete by 2023. They will be destroyed through a neutralization process that will turn them into water, carbon dioxide and salts.

Once chemical weapons are destroyed in 2023, employment will decline as the plant site is decommissioned.

The $1.5 billion plant funded through the Department of Defense is one of the biggest and most expensive construction projects in Central Kentucky history.

The rockets and shells stored at Blue Grass Army Depot contain 523 tons of chemicals. The Army has an additional 2,600 tons of chemical agent at Pueblo, Colo. Destruction of the Pueblo weapons began in 2016.

The United States acquired more than 30,000 tons of mustard and nerve agents but it says it never used them. Nearly 90 percent of the original national stockpile has already been destroyed, mostly by incineration.

A 1925 treaty banned the use of chemical weapons in armed conflicts after gas attacks in World War I, and the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention called for eradicating them.

But international inspectors say Syria and the Islamic State used chemical weapons in 2014 and 2015.

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