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chemical dumping at sea


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#1 Leslie

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 02:44 PM

From the L.A. Times 30 October 2005

Vast Chemical Dumping Found at Sea
# Records show the Army's former practice of disposing of lethal weapons in the ocean was far more extensive than once thought.

By John Bull, Newport News Daily Press

NORFOLK, Va. — A clam-dredging operation off the coast of New Jersey last summer pulled up an old artillery shell. The long-submerged World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like substance.

Bomb-disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle the shell, and they found it was filled with mustard gas in solid form. Three of the technicians were injured.

What was long feared by the few military officials in the know had come to pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended up on shore in the United States. Although it has long been known that some chemical weapons were dumped in the ocean, records obtained by the Daily Press show that the previously classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than had been suspected.

The Army now admits it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent in the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, landmines and rockets, and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.

A Daily Press investigation also found:

• These weapons virtually ring the country, concealed off the coast of at least 11 states — six on the East Coast, two on the Gulf Coast, and California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few, if any, state officials have been informed of their existence.

• The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined a few of its 26 dump zones, but not in the last 30 years.

• The Army can't say exactly where all of the weapons were dumped from World War II to 1970. Army records are sketchy or missing, or were destroyed.

• More dumpsites probably exist. The Army hasn't reviewed WW I-era records, when ocean dumping of chemical weapons was common.

"We do not claim to know where they all are," said William Brankowitz, a deputy project manager in the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency and a leading authority on the Army's chemical weapons dumping.

"We don't want to be cavalier at all and say this stuff was exposed to water and is OK," he said. "It can last for a very, very long time."

A drop of nerve agent can kill within a minute. When released in the ocean, it lasts up to six weeks, killing every organism it touches before breaking down into its nonlethal chemical components. Mustard gas forms a concentrated, encrusted gel in seawater that lasts for at least five years.

Sea-dumped chemical weapons may be slowly leaking from decades of saltwater corrosion, resulting in a time-delayed release of deadly chemicals and an unforeseeable environmental impact.

The Army's secret ocean-dumping program spanned at least three decades, from 1944 to 1970. The dumped weapons were deemed to be unneeded surplus. They were hazardous to transport, expensive to store, too dangerous to bury and difficult to destroy.

In the early 1970s, the Army publicly admitted it had dumped chemical weapons off the U.S. coast. Congress banned the practice in 1972. Three years later, the U.S. signed an international treaty prohibiting ocean disposal of chemical weapons.

Only now have Army reports come to light that show how much was dumped, what kind of chemical weapons they were, when they were thrown overboard, and rough nautical coordinates of where some are located. The reports contain bits and pieces of information on the Army's long-running ocean dumping program.

The reports were released to the Daily Press as part of the newspaper's investigation of offshore dumping.

"The perception at the time was the ocean is vast — it would absorb it," said Craig Williams, director of the Chemical Weapons Working Group in Kentucky, a grass-roots citizens group. "Certainly, it is insane in retrospect they would do it."

Based on the information available, the Army presumes most of the weapons are in very deep water and unlikely to jeopardize divers or commercial fishing operations that dredge the ocean bottom. But boaters, divers, fishermen and commercial seafood trawlers have no way to steer clear of the dumpsites, because the Army has put only one of its 26 known chemical weapons dumps on nautical charts, according to records kept by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration.

The impact of the chemical dumping has never been studied. Few scientists knew it was done, so studies of the decline in sea life have never focused on the possibility of leaking chemical weapons, officials said.

#2 acroporas

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 03:02 PM

Mustard gas..... ;)
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#3 acroporas

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 03:04 PM

It is so conforting to know our military's experts know what they are doing..

Bomb-disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle the shell, and they found it was filled with mustard gas in solid form. Three of the technicians were injured.


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#4 james

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 03:04 PM

Leslie,

When we did the pipeline route survey for BP's deepwater Mardi Gras Pipeline System here in the Gulf, we found a large field of dumped munitions. We also found a missing U-boat and the wreck of the paddle-wheel steamer Robert E. Lee, but that's another story.

We ended up getting some amazing ROV photos of the munitions (can't post here) and we ended up doing a detailed survey using a magnetometer. We ended up routing the pipeline around the munitions area - what else can you do?

As for the chemical munitions - I wonder if using today's technology it would be possible to incinerate them.

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#5 anthp

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 03:55 PM

Mustard gas..... ;)

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Don't worry William - I got it :)
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#6 anthp

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 03:57 PM

What a mess they must have made to all those poor deep sea polychaetes, ophiuroids, other echinoderms and many other poor unfortunate phyla. Geez we were silly back then. Hopefully similar actions aren't continued today!
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#7 Leslie

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 05:13 PM

More info from a post by Cyklon_3000 on scubaboard....
http://www.scubaboar...ad.php?t=117622

According to an article posted on our agency (DEQ) intranet site yesterday, the Army conducted secret ordnance dumping from 1944-1970 at 26 locations offshore eleven states.

Included in the material disposed at sea:

64 million lbs of mustard gas
400,000 chemical-filled bombs, grenades, rockets

Specific incidences of dumping:

In 1944, 16,000 mustard gas-filled 100-lb bombs were dumped 5 miles off the coast of Hawaii.

In 1946, 23 barges, each holding 350 tons of German-produced nerve gas and US-produced Lewisite (a blister agent) were dumped.

In 1957, 48 tons of Lewisite-filled ordnance was dumped in 12,600' of water off Virginia Beach, VA.

Three dump zones located off the VA and MD border received 77,000 mustard gas-filled mortar rounds, 5,000 white phosporus munitions, 1,500 one-ton cannisters of Lewisite, and 800 55-gallon barrels of radioactive waste.

During Operation CHASE, two ships (SS Corporal EG Gibson and SS Mormachtern) were loaded with rockets containing VX nerve gas and sunk in 6000' of water offshore Atlantic City. A third ship enroute to the dump zone exploded and sank in Aug 1968.

There is much more detail in this article, but these items give the reader a feel for the magnitude of the amount of material that has been dropped in the ocean in the continental US. A separate article details US Army dumping operations in other areas of the world.

#8 Leslie

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Posted 03 November 2005 - 05:35 PM

James - That sounds like a fascinating survey. I assume the photos are property of BP and that's why you can't post them? Too bad, I bet we'd all love to see them. I've heard of both incineration and chemical neutralization for the chemical munitions but don't know anything more.

The article doesn't do more than mention that radioactive material was also jettisoned. Several articles were published in 2001 by the San Francisco Weekly about the radioactive dumping that was done by the Navy from the mid 1940s up to 1970. There's a nuclear waste dumping site right off the Farallon Islands, California. The material varied from contaminated carcasses of animals used in experiments to mixed fission products and plutonium; an entire 10,000 ton radioactive ship, the aircraft carrier USS Independence is believed to have been sunk in or near the waste site. "It had been used as an atomic bomb target & nuclear laboratory & it was packed full of fresh fission products & other radiological waste at the time it sank." (SF Weekly) The waste was packed into barrels for containment but a crew member of the tug that towed the barrels out to sea was assigned the job of shooting holes in the barrels that didn't immediately sink! So much for containment..... As muchof the Gulf of the Farallones is prime commercial fishing territory I suggest taking along a geiger counter next time you buy local seafood in San Francisco!

#9 Leslie

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Posted 04 November 2005 - 07:50 AM

I googled mustard gas+fishermen. It's a problem in a lot of places. In 2003 alone there were 25 reports of mustard gas & other nerve agents caught by fishermen in the Baltic Sea. About 40,000 tones of chemical munitions were dumped there after World War II.

#10 Rocha

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Posted 04 November 2005 - 09:52 AM

I googled mustard gas+fishermen.  It's a problem in a lot of places.  In 2003  alone there were 25 reports of mustard gas & other nerve agents caught by fishermen in the Baltic Sea.  About 40,000 tones of chemical munitions were dumped there after World War II.

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