The 267th Chemical Company was a military unit of the U.S. Army Chemical Corps responsible for the surety of chemical warfare agents dubbed “RED HAT” deployed to the Islands of Okinawa, Japan and subsequently Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. A recently discovered Army document reveals that the true mission of the 267th Chemical Company was the operation of the Okinawa deployment site as part Project 112. Project 112 was a 1960s biological warfare field test program that was conducted by the Deseret Test Center. Okinawa is not listed as a test site under Project 112 by the U.S. Department of Defense.
In 1970, Congress redefined the island’s military mission as the storage and destruction of chemical weapons. The Army leased 41 acres on the Atoll to store chemical weapons held in Okinawa, Japan. Johnston Atoll became a chemical weapons storage site in 1971 holding about 6.6 percent of the U.S. military chemical weapon arsenal. The Chemical weapons were brought from Okinawa under Operation Red Hat with the re-deployment of the 267th Chemical Company and consisted of rockets, mines, artillery projectiles, and bulk 1-ton containers filled with Sarin, Agent VX, vomiting agent, and blister agent such as mustard gas. Chemical weapons from the Soloman islands and Germany were also stored on the island after 1990. Chemical agents were stored in the high security Red Hat Storage Area (RHSA) which included hardened igloos in the weapon storage area, the Red Hat building (#850), two Red Hat hazardous waste warehouses (#851 and #852), an open storage area, and security entrances and guard towers.
Some of the other weapons stored at the site were shipped from U.S. stockpiles in West Germany in 1990. These shipments followed a 1986 agreement between the U.S. and Germany to move the munitions. Merchant ships carrying the munitions left Germany under Operation Golden Python and Operation Steel Box in October 1990 and arrived at Johnston Island November 6, 1990. Although the ships were unloaded within nine days, the unpacking and storing of munitions continued into 1991. The remainder of the chemical weapons was a small number of World War II era weapons shipped from the Solomon Islands.
Agent Orange was bought to Johnston Atoll from South Vietnam and Gulfport, Mississippi in 1972 under Operation Pacer IVY and stored on the northwest corner of the island known as the Herbicide Orange Storage site but dubbed the “Agent Orange Yard”. The Agent Orange was eventually destroyed during Operation Pacer HO on the Dutch incineration ship MT Vulcanus in the Summer of 1977. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that 1,800,000 gallons of Herbicide Orange was stored at Johnson Island in the Pacific and that an additional 480,000 gallons stored at Gulfport, Mississippi was brought to Johnston Atoll for destruction. Leaking barrels during the storage and spills during re-drumming operations contaminated the storage area, and lagoon with herbicide residue and its toxic contaminant 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzodioxin.
Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS) was the first full-scale chemical weapons disposal facility. In 1981, the Army began planning for the Johnston Atoll Chemical Agent Disposal System (JACADS). Built to incinerate chemical munitions on the island, construction for the facility began in 1985 and was completed five years later. Following completion of construction and facility characterization, JACADS began operational verification testing (OVT) in June 1990. From 1990 until 1993, the Army conducted four planned periods of Operational Verification Testing (OVT), required by Public Law 100-456. OVT was completed in March 1993, having demonstrated that the reverse assembly incineration technology was effitive and that JACADS operations met all environmental parameters. The OVT process enabled the Army to gain critical insight into the factors that establish a safe and effective rate of destruction for all munitions and agent types. Only after this critical testing period did the Army proceed with full-scale disposal operations at JACADS. Transition to full-scale operations started in May 1993 but the facility did not begin full-scale operations until August 1993.
Chemical weapons from the Solomon Islands in 1991 and from West Germany in 1990 as part of Operation Steel Box were also brought to Johnston Atoll for disposal. All of the chemical weapons once stored on Johnston Island were demilitarized and the agents incinerated at JACADS with the process completing in 2000 followed by the destruction of legacy hazardous waste material associated with chemical weapon storage and cleanup. JACADS demolished by 2003 and the island was stripped of its remaining infrastructure, environmentally remediated and a monument dedicated to JACADS personnel was erected at the site.