“We set up a laboratory within one of the rooms in the Albanian facility where the agent was stored and outfitted it with glove boxes, analytical instrumentation and personnel decontamination station,” said Brandon Bruey, CBARR chemist. “It was a process of acquiring their chemical inventory and determining what chemicals, supplies and equipment we needed to treat, analyze and destroy the agent. We also verified successful destruction, which was performed in a technically sound, safe and environmentally responsible manner.”
The report, “Analysis and Destruction of Chemical Warfare Agent Samples: Albanian Armed Forces Central Laboratory, Tirana, Albania,” was authored by Bruey, John Schwarz and CBARR Director of Operations Tim Blades. The report summarized destruction statements and supporting analytical data that was also given to the Albanian government as evidence of the safe CWA destruction. Additionally, the operation was reported to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in accordance with the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), of which the United States and Albania are member states.
The collaborative effort between CBARR and the Albanian Armed Forces Central Laboratory, Logistics Brigade led to the successful destruction of 11 chemical agents during a two week period in July 2012. The operation in Albania demonstrates CBARR’s ability to provide chemical solutions for customers worldwide as it leads ECBC’s mission of providing CBRNE defense needs in a safe and secure manner.
“I’ve been a CBARR employee since August 2011 and that was my first big trip abroad. It was neat to see how when another country needs help meeting a chemical demilitarization challenge, CBARR is called upon to develop a solution,” said Bruey.
That call came in late 2011 when the U.S. Department of State had been notified by the Albanian government that a small stock of CWA was discovered in the Central Laboratory. According to the technical report, representatives from the Albanian government worked through the U.S. Embassy in Tirana, Albania to supply an inventory of the toxic chemicals to be destroyed. These chemicals were present in relatively small quantities and were reportedly used previously as analytical reference standards for training Albanian soldiers on laboratory operations and specialized detection equipment.
On Nov. 21, 2012, CBARR received a warm letter from U.S. Ambassador to Albania Alexander A. Arvizu, thanking the organization for a successful operation in Tirana. “Thanks to your professionalism and expertise, these hazardous chemicals are no longer a potential danger to the Albanian or American people. I have received profuse thanks from the Ministry of Defense and other Albanian government officials, and wanted to pass on their appreciation as well. Once again, thank you for a job well done!” wrote Arvizu.
Bruey said that he believes the work CBARR does serves a real world importance, no matter the mission. Chemical demilitarization has become increasingly well-known by the general population over the past few months. The chemical weapons attack in Syria last August has led to international efforts by the OPCW to rid the country of its chemical weapons. Destruction of CWA supports the OPCW’s mission to rid the world of such hazards.
“It takes a huge team effort to make these missions happen,” said Bruey. “It’s not just one person and any one group. These projects are successful because there are a lot of people involved in the planning process. We’re just doing our one little piece, but it is kind of cool that our one little piece is something that no one else can do.”
ECBC first supported the Albania chemical weapons elimination program in 2005, in conjunction with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. The multi-phase project was conducted over several phases and took 2.5 years to to complete, from assessment to final demolition. More than 16 metric tons of chemical agent stored in 746 canisters and vials were destroyed between Feb. 1, 2007 and July 11, 2007. Destruction facilities were dismantled and ECBC demobilization was completed on Nov. 20, 2007. The effort resulted in more than 52,000 total man-hours from ECBC personnel, who analyzed more than 5,000 liquid and vapor samples.
The safe and successful chemical demilitarization mission was confirmed by the OPCW and Albania became the first nation to completely and verifiably destroy all of its chemical weapons. According to the OPCW website, this disarmament campaign was conducted to fulfill Albania’s obligations under the CWC.