Royal Dutch Shell Plc  .com Rotating Header Image

Rocky Mountain News: Once deadly arsenal now a prairie oasis

EXTRACT: The Army leased parts of the plant to Shell Chemical Co., a division of Shell Oil that manufactured herbicides and insecticides. The Army ceased chemical weapons production in 1969, but Shell continued until 1982. Unaware of the poisoned soil, the prairie dogs, burrowing owls, snakes and golden eagles began to repossess the 27-square mile site. It sometimes killed them. Rachel Carson’s 1962 best-seller, Silent Spring, first focused national attention on the arsenal. A 12,000-foot well was dug to bury the poisons, but that created a new nightmare. The Colorado Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued the Army, trying to force a cleanup. The Army in turn sued Shell, which countersued.

THE ARTICLE

By Tom Noel
March 3, 2007

Calling the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge recently, I expected the usual recorded maze. Instead a live voice, cheerful as a meadowlark at sunrise, chirped: “Come on out, you’ll see loads of deer, plenty of prairie dogs, all kinds of birds, and, starting next month in March, we’ll have bison!”

Mayte Valdez, a high school intern, was just as accommodating when we reached the Visitor Center on Havana Street just north of Interstate 70. She explained the free weekend bus tours and what we might see along the lake and prairie trails. She put a rosy wrapping on what is now an island of nature surrounded by a sea of development.

I wanted to tell her about Gen. Charles S. Shadle, an infantryman in World War I who was well aware of the German use of poison gas. After the war he helped organize and soon headed the U.S. Army’s Chemical Warfare Department.

“I came to Denver in 1929,” Shadle told me in 1983. “I came to teach chemical weapons at Fort Logan. Denver was a friendly Western town. There were no parking meters, only a dozen traffic lights, and the coolest water and best climate.

“In 1940, the Denver Chamber of Commerce and Colorado’s U.S. senators, Big Ed Johnson and Eugene Milliken, showed us what was then an asparagus patch near the end of the High Line Canal. We prepared there a way to retaliate if the Nazis ever used chemical warfare first.”

By 1943, the asparagus was replaced by a $62 million “arsenal of democracy,” a huge factory making mustard gas, nerve gas, napalm bombs and other toxic arms. The local press and politicians unanimously favored what they saw as an essential war plant that provided jobs for 3,000 locals.

Except for the napalm and white phosphorous used in firebombing Japanese cities, most of the toxic weapons were stored at the arsenal and never used. The Army leased parts of the plant to Shell Chemical Co., a division of Shell Oil that manufactured herbicides and insecticides. The Army ceased chemical weapons production in 1969, but Shell continued until 1982.

Unaware of the poisoned soil, the prairie dogs, burrowing owls, snakes and golden eagles began to repossess the 27-square mile site. It sometimes killed them. Rachel Carson’s 1962 best-seller, Silent Spring, first focused national attention on the arsenal.

A 12,000-foot well was dug to bury the poisons, but that created a new nightmare.

The Colorado Department of Health and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sued the Army, trying to force a cleanup. The Army in turn sued Shell, which countersued.

After U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, of Denver, threatened congressional intervention, the litigating parties began working together to facilitate the 1992 creation of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge. After many public meetings, a decision was made not to move the arsenal’s toxic waste to a new site, but to do a $2 billion cleanup on-site, scheduled for completion in 2011.

From high spots on the arsenal’s nature trails, you see the lunar landscape to the west: mesas of dirt and broken-up concrete from old Stapleton Airport runways being rearranged to insulate the bad stuff. Looming farther to the west are the high-rises of Denver, a city once protected, then threatened, and now blessed with what has happened on this prairie outskirts.

Tom Noel welcomes comments at coloradowebsites.com /dr-colorado

royaldutchshellplc.com and its also non-profit sister websites royaldutchshellgroup.com, shellenergy.website, shellnazihistory.com, royaldutchshell.website, johndonovan.website, shellnews.net and shell2004.com are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

0 Comments on “Rocky Mountain News: Once deadly arsenal now a prairie oasis”

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: