Recovery capability leads to increased support around the world for CBARR

RDECOM C&B Public Affairs | October 12th, 2018

CBARR technicians conduct operations on a neutralization tower as part of the demolition of a pilot plant facility at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground in January 2007. Removal of the contaminated equipment was one part of the overall demolition of thirteen buildings.

CBARR’s broad range of capabilities has allowed the organization to conduct chemical weapon destruction operations, environmental monitoring and sampling, and analysis of chemical destruction technologies.

The Chemical Biological Application and Risk Reduction (CBARR) Business unit of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command Chemical and Biological (RDECOM C&B) Center specializes in performing chemical and biological operations worldwide.

CBARR’s broad range of capabilities has allowed the organization to conduct chemical weapon destruction operations, environmental monitoring and sampling, and analysis of chemical destruction technologies. The mission has required the organization to perform activities in more than thirty states, and eight countries. The organization partners with commercial clients, federal agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Homeland Security and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, foreign governments and multi-national teams to accomplish complex missions requiring operational knowledge, chemical weapons expertise and diplomatic sensitivity.

The organization serves as the operational arm of the global mission to rid the world of chemical weapons. Key accomplishments include supporting the United Nations Special Commission in Iraq to perform verification and destruction of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction facilities and weapons; assessing and monitoring chemical warfare agent storage and destruction sites in Albania; destroying the Syrian chemical weapons stockpile aboard the Motor Vessel Cape Ray as part of an international operation on behalf of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons; and destroying chemical weapons that have been recovered across the United States.

Capabilities that make the difference

Imagine a terrorist attack involving chemical agent occurring in the New York City subway system – the largest rapid transit system in the world by number of stations, boasting 472 stations in operation. In 2017, the subway delivered over 1.72 billion rides, making it the busiest rapid transit rail system in the West.

Emergency response is the most exercised and strategized aspect of this kind of domestic terrorist attack. Local, state and federal agencies respond to investigate, secure a perimeter and ensure the safety of people immediately impacted. However, an aspect often overlooked is recovery.

Recovery is a deliberate process to remediate an area potentially exposed to chemical or biological agent for reuse or demolition. CBARR’s recovery capability splits into two distinct situations, recovery for reoccupation, and recovery for demolition and disposal.

If an incident involving chemical or biological threats, to include a terrorist attack, should occur at an airport, subway, or building, a systematic approach to decontamination and validation of suitability for re-occupancy is necessary. This effort requires coordination with local, state and federal agencies.

“The recovery phase of an event like the New York subway scenario is typically the longest phase – one where you must evaluate the extent of contamination, quickly evaluate decontamination methods and apply resources to rendering the vast transportation network safe,” said Brian O’Donnell, project manager at CBARR.

While safety is always the first priority, the impact of such an attack quickly becomes a financial liability to the city and the local businesses serviced by that station. It is estimated that one station closed for 30 days would have a negative economic impact of nearly $10 Million.

CBARR has established multiple processes to recover key infrastructure in a scenario like this. The team would employ a process to partner with a broad range of stakeholders to define and contain the contaminated area, establish engineering controls to allow operators to enter and limit impact to the surrounding area, decontaminate, remove infrastructure, validate that the area is safe for reentry, and prepare for reconstruction as necessary. CBARR’s core operations involve sample collection, environmental monitoring, waste management and removal, and chemical agent operations to allow full team readiness to deploy immediately, reducing the economic impact sustained during recovery.

That said, other situations involving chemical agent have occurred since the early twentieth century but that only in the past 30 years, have been recognized as potential environmental hazards. As more hazardous areas are identified, the need for recovery grows.

“Contaminated areas pose a danger to surrounding communities, not to mention these areas could be repurposed to boost local and national economies,” said Amy Dean, project manager at CBARR. “As a result, CBARR applies its’ years of experience and is called upon to apply expertise to eliminate chemical and biological hazards.”

CBARR’s ongoing mission dealing with chemical weapons is a national asset available to respond quickly to recovery needs around the world. This can alleviate the financial burden of other agencies having to train and maintain an operational asset that potentially never gets used.

Recovery for reoccupation requires CBARR personnel to arrive shortly after an incident, evaluate the suspected area of contamination, develop a plan and begin recovery efforts. Dean explains, “Our evaluation can guide client decision making in terms of whether the issues can be mitigated or if the threat is too great and require infrastructure to be demolished.”

The mission is not without challenges. “Some of the more difficult challenges with a recovery mission include the classification and segregation of mixed waste, for example asbestos material that may be agent contaminated. We must ensure that all potential agent sources have been identified and remediated,” explained O’Donnell.

In some cases there are buildings or facilities that have been used for chemical and biological production, testing, or research that are no longer desired due to their age, condition, or a change of mission. In these cases a systematic approach is necessary to decontaminate the building, dispose of any hazardous waste, and to deem the building as safe/ready for demolition.

On Aberdeen Proving Ground (APG), since the early 1990’s, CBARR has employed the capability for the decontamination, equipment removal, and verification sampling of the Edgewood pilot plant, which ultimately led to the demolition of the facility. The team then partnered with the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Activity to prepare thirteen former-chemical agent production buildings on the installation for demolition. Now, CBARR is engaged in a broad demolition project with installation management organizations to prepare 62 buildings and slabs for demolition across APG.

In April 2018, CBARR operators remove metal from a toxic chamber that was previously used by the Australian Department of Defence for chemical agent training at the Defence Site Maribyrnong in Australia.

These local successes have allowed the organization to expand the capability globally, including the decommissioning of surety laboratories at the Stanford Research Institute, Southern Research Institute, as well as decommissioning and demolition of Albania chemical agent destruction facilities. Since 2013, CBARR has conducted operations in support of the Australian Department of Defence to remediate, sample and remove contaminated equipment from a former chemical and biological weapons defense research facility in Maribyrnong, Australia. This multi-year project is paving the way for a $1.5 billion residential construction project.

CBARR plays a critical role in ensuring the safety of its workers and the surrounding community, minimizing further impact to the environment and providing quality remediation and recovery techniques that ultimately lead to stronger national security.


The RDECOM C&B Center is the Army’s principal research and development center for chemical and biological defense technology, engineering and field operations. The Center has achieved major technological advances for the warfighter and for our national defense, with a long and distinguished history of providing the armed forces with quality systems and outstanding customer service. The RDECOM C&B Center is located at the Edgewood Area of Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.