WHITE HALL (AP) — Officials with the Pine Bluff Arsenal near White Hall say work to destroy the last of chemical weapons at the arsenal is ahead of schedule.

Workers have eliminated more than 50 percent of mustard ton containers stored there, the third and final campaign to eliminate stockpiled chemical weapons at the arsenal.

"We are confident that we will complete disposal operations by the Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty date of April 29, 2012," Mark Greer, Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility site project manager, said recently. "Currently we are operating ahead of schedule. The early completion estimate in the Transition Planning Guide predicts the end of the ton container disposal campaign to be in December 2010."

Loss of the weapons elimination mission will mean the loss of jobs. According to public presentations by Col. Nathaniel Farmer, commander of Pine Bluff Chemical Activity, he plans to issue employees 180-day layoff notices Feb. 1, 2011.

A total job loss estimate is 970, according to Raini Brunson, spokeswoman for Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility/Pine Bluff Chemical Activity. PBCA employs about 170 government employees, she said, and PBCDF employs about 800 contract workers.

Of the 170 PBCA employees, 71 are to remain at the arsenal through the completion of the shut-down mission.

Farmer said he expects to "put the padlock on the door" within 2012.

A transition center located at the arsenal opened Nov. 4 allowing employees free access to government human resources personnel, support from workforce centers, retirement counseling, resume-writing assistance, job-placement assistance, workforce training opportunities, and educational opportunities.

"This is truly a significant processing achievement. More than 2.8 million pounds of mustard agent have been safely destroyed," Greer said. "The amount of agent already safely processed during the mustard campaign is more than the combined amount processed during our three previous campaigns."

Elimination of weapons at the arsenal began in March 2005 and the mustard agent campaign began in December 2008.