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West Virginia Ordnance Works

Essay by   •  April 13, 2011  •  Case Study  •  2,765 Words (12 Pages)  •  1,774 Views

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The West Virginia Ordnance Works was a facility that was built along the eastern bank of the Ohio River, and built solely to produce TNT during WWII. The Ohio River played a role in the shipment and the manufacturing of the TNT at the WVOW plant. The Ohio River played a big role in the operations at the West Virginia Ordnance Works plant. The Ohio River is the largest tributary to the Mississippi River. The river is 981 miles long and begins at Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The most transported product on the Ohio River is Coal. However, many other materials are transported along the river to the rest of the United States. Many companies found that importing and exporting raw materials on the Ohio River was more economically friendly than by roadway or rail. The West Virginia Ordnance Works (WVOW) provided many residents of Point Pleasant jobs and a stable economy for the town (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.., 2009). The peak of production was reached in early 1943 and over 3,500 workers were employed at the time. The West Virginia Ordnance Works was considered to be a revolutionary achievement but the long term effects were overlooked by many.

The Ohio River played a major factor in the imports and exports of raw materials from the plant. Ships were able to transport products for the plant three times faster on the river because of small amounts of river traffic. This fast paced consumption and production posed a problem for the products and the boats. The materials could not be out in the weather because of their organic contents. Boat traffic eventually got backed up and boats were waiting up to three days just to unload their cargo. The United States government decided to solve this by building the Point Pleasant Depot. This facility was built along the river in downtown Point Pleasant and was around five miles in total length. The Point Pleasant Depot allowed boats to unload their cargo, store it, and then transport it by rail for the other six miles to the plant. This allowed for both river and rail transportation to be importing and exporting materials simultaneously. The Ohio River is still one of the fastest ways of transporting materials and is highly trafficked by boats and ships.

In the early 1940s, the United States government believed that if they were going into the heat of battle of World War II, they needed to be prepared. Government agents found an idea location for a munitions production facility, six miles north of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The site sprawled throughout 8,323 acres of heavily vegetated Ohio Valley bottomland and had rail and water access from the nearby Ohio River "Mothmen, n.d.". The site was chosen because it was hidden by the rolling hills of West Virginia and also by thick vegetation. The plant was laid out specifically to avoid detection and the possibility of Japanese and German attack. The plant would store the explosives in a series of concrete bunkers built above the ground. These bunkers, or "igloos," were enormous dome-shaped concrete structures, covered and camouflaged by over a foot of earth and spaced evenly in a grid pattern to reduce the chances of all igloos being destroyed in a chain reaction from an enemy bomb. The doors on the bunkers were approximately one foot thick, protecting the vital materials inside (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). According to a Point Pleasant Register news article in 1945, General Chemical Defense Corp. Major J. D. Fraser said the plant was allowed to be overrun by vegetation to show an illusion from the sky. Construction began on the plant in March of 1942, because of the economical boom of World War II. The construction was supervised by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntington District.

During the years of operation of WVOW, Point Pleasant was a boom-town. Chemists, scientists, engineers, electricians, plumbers, masons, heavy construction crews, and laborers representing nearly every building trade were required for the rapid buildup. Workers from all over the country converged on this area and construction continued around the clock. Residents claim the streets of downtown Point Pleasant were packed with people like the streets of New York City. Ordinance School was hurriedly constructed for the surge of children of construction workers and staff personnel and was the first ever elementary school built by the federal government. New housing additions were built in Point Pleasant for plant workers. Housing was constructed near the plant for military staff that oversaw and guarded the facility. Local men working at the plant were exempted from military service. The plant was created to supply the United States with tri-nitro-toluene (TNT) to fuel the war effort. The site would have access from both river and rail for transportation of vital raw materials.

The West Virginia Ordnance Works plant consisted of TNT manufacturing facilities, associated acid storage and concentrating facilities, administration and housing areas, repair shops, two well water fields, an Ohio River dock site, power plants, magazine area and several rail yards (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). The purpose of the West Virginia Ordnance Works was to produce over 720,000 tons of TNT per day for the U. S. Army. According to the Point Pleasant Register at the time, the peak of production for the plant was reached in the late months of 1942, with an estimated 3,500 persons working at the plant (Environmental Protection Agency, 2010). Most people actually do not know that the production of the TNT was done underground. The two mile long production facility was hidden by twenty-five feet of earth and had numerous ventilation shafts throughout the complex to filter out the contaminants. The ventilation shafts pose a huge problem today. Most of the shafts have been camouflaged by the land and a person could easily fall through these hidden traps.

The West Virginia Ordnance Works produced TNT for the U.S. war effort from early 1942 until late 1945. On August 15, 1945, the $45 million West Virginia Ordnance Works project was ordered by the U.S. government to cease all operations. According to the Point Pleasant Register at the time, all employees were to report to the plant and begin the task of decommissioning the plant (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.., 2009). On December 4, 1945, Congress declared the entire ammunition surplus for government needs. The accountability was turned over to the United States War Asset Administration for proper removal and disposal of the ammunition (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers., 2009). After the war ended, the federal government had trouble finding creditable clients to sell contaminated land to, which would be able to handle and care for the land to protect it for the future. The land acreage is as follows: 171.944 acres belong to the U.S. Army; 2,451.19 acres are owned by the Conservation Commission of West



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