[CLASSIFIED] Indiana’s VX Nerve Gas Factory [CLASSIFIED]
The adrenaline-overkill action of 1996’s ‘The Rock’ made it a blockbuster hit, but the real star of the movie wasn’t Sean Connery or Nicholas Cage. It was that dangling string of green orbs that contained VX Nerve Gas. The plot of ‘The Rock’ was beyond absurd, but despite this, VX Nerve Gas was and is 100% real.
And was once made entirely in Indiana…
First, the VX nerve agent (the VX stands for “venomous agent X”) portrayed in the movie isn’t 100% correct. It doesn’t melt faces, for one. It kills through asphyxiation. Secondly, an injection to counteract the effects of VX doesn’t require a needle in the heart. In the butt is just fine.
But it is just as lethal as portrayed in the film and, sadly, could be particularly dangerous to a large population. How lethal? Think of a normal eyedropper. Two tiny drops of VX nerve agent on bare skin from that dropper (about 10 mg) would be fatal to most people.
What does that have to do with Indiana? About thirty minutes north of Terre Haute sits the rusting shell of what was one of the country’s largest munitions factories: the Newport Chemical Depot.
During World War II and the Korean War, the plant manufactured the explosive RDX, frequently used by American troops overseas (a version was called “Composition B”). Until the early 1960s, it chiefly manufactured the heavy water used in the American nuclear program.
By 1961, when the futility of the nuclear arms race became apparent, attention shifted to other modes of clandestine warfare, namely nerve gas. Like nuclear weapons, the United States had no intention of dispersing nerve agent, but like nuclear weapons, had to pursue a policy of deterrence and mutual destruction. If other countries had it, we had to have it, and Indiana’s Newport Chemical Depot made it. Specifically, the horrific and effective VX nerve agent.
Discovered by researchers at the IG Farben chemical conglomerate, which supplied the Germans with the infamous Zyklon B, VX nerve agent could be used in liquid or aerosol form, stuffed into the cone of a missile or tucked into a perfume bottle. This amber, oily liquid had such low volatility that a contaminated area would stay contaminated for days or weeks.
In that regard, VX could work as an area denial weapon as well, especially if dispersed by bomb. Military engineers designed the B Bigeye Bomb for that very purpose. Thankfully, the US had no involvement in the two most infamous VX gas incidents: in 1994 by a terrorist in Osaka, Japan; and in 2017 by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un against his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam.
Throughout the 1960s, the Newport Chemical Depot cranked out over 1,000 metric tons (about 2.5 million pounds) of VX nerve agent, carefully storing it in secure bunkers.
In 1969, President Nixon agreed to end the manufacture of chemical weapons in the United States, and the thousands of white barrels of VX sat silently in the depot’s bunkers, guarded around the clock. Eventually the Army retooled the depot to neutralize the stockpile of VX nerve agent.
Delays plagued the VX stockpile destruction, including the protests of surrounding Indiana residents who were not keen about having the world’s largest supply of its deadliest nerve gas sloshing around in their county. The depot didn’t start the process until 2005, essentially combining it with other chemicals to neutralize its lethal effects.
Today, the plant is still carefully guarded. Although it can be seen from the road, tall fencing and guards surround the entire facility, in hopes nearby communities will find a use for it some day. Even the mounded bunkers, which once held enough nerve gas to kill the world’s population several times over, still sit securely in the ground, now devoid of venom.
*I want to officially, absolutely and unequivocally state that no adventurers should consider exploring this former depot. I think, but I am not sure, the guards might shoot you. Let’s not find out.