Twenty-five community members gathered at the Berea College Forestry Outreach Center January 18th for the first in a series of Documentary Dialogues, to be held the 3rd Thursday of each month. Many thanks to Nina Verin, a Friends of the Forest Volunteer who coordinates this event. This month’s offering was NERVE, a film created to highlight the work of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation. The dialogue that followed was led by two of the people featured in the film, Craig Williams and Deborah Payne. We are most grateful for their generosity in spending this time with us.
As the film began, the tension in the room was palpable as we learned of the Bluegrass Army Depot’s plans to incinerate about the successful eighteen-year struggle to prevent the incineration of chemical weapons stored at the Bluegrass Army Depot in Richmond, Kentucky. As we saw the gruesome effects of human exposure to even a small amount of nerve gas, it was horrifying to imagine the potential health effects of the planned incineration. As NERVE continued, feelings of tension turned to relief and then hope, as we watched the story of community members who refused to sit idly by and, after an eighteen-year effort, ultimately prevailed.
The group opposing these efforts knew that if they couldn’t simply call for a moratorium on incineration, they also had to offer a viable alternative. This led to years of research, including trips to Russia, where alternatives were actively being explored. Williams learned of a water oxidation method that would neutralize the chemicals in the stored weapons. After Williams testified before Congress numerous times, they eventually decided chemical neutralization was a better alternative.
Thirty-four years later, the complex system required for neutralization is just now coming together. After the film, Williams told us he had toured the Depot that very day and had seen the first dummy missile go through a system test. He estimates it will be a few more years before all the chemical weapons are effectively neutralized, at which point Bluegrass Army Depot will be a depository exclusively for conventional weapons.
The results of the efforts of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation provided a hopeful end to a remarkable journey. Williams and Payne then shared with the audience other pressing local environmental issues, as we discussed the importance of community education, and the power of ordinary citizens working together to determine the course of the future.
Join us for Documentary Dialogues!
Please join us for future Documentary Dialogues. Upcoming titles will be listed in the Events section of this website and on the Berea College Forestry Outreach Facebook page.
I am not from the area so I didn’t know much about the Army Depot before watching NERVE. It is a great story and example of how change can occur, even when it starts as a small group of citizens, and even when met with overwhelming opposition.
Though I had heard about the Bluegrass Army Depot and the work that the Chemical Weapons Working Group had done, I had never heard the full story. Watching this documentary displayed how the work of a community organized and fighting together can bring positive results. It was a great opportunity to have the members of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation there to answer further questions on the chemical weapons and current environmental issues concerning Madison County.