Military barrels potentially containing hazardous waste are seen through the corroded shell of the container in the sea off Vieques, Puerto Rico.
Provided by C. Torres, University of Georgia. A 2,pound Mark 84 bomb dropped off Vieques, Puerto Rico, is inspected by a diver. Provided by James Porter, University of Georgia. A canister used to drop thousands of grenade-sized bomblets lies on the ocean floor off Vieques, Puerto Rico. Detonating or setting any of it loose might be the unacknowledged threat from seismic blasts and oil-drilling pursuits being considered for offshore.
As concern turns toward what fossil fuels might be harvested off the coast, the S. Another problem: Nobody appears to know for sure exactly how much is out there or exactly where it is. The dumping, carried out from the war years until , took place all around the country after the military deemed the sea the safest place to dispose of it. Queries to the Army about the status of the sites off South Carolina and whether they have been surveyed, were referred to the Navy.
As of Friday, the Navy had not responded with any information.
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But according to a Department of Defense report to Congress, more than 17, tons of different types of poisonous gas were dumped off the East Coast in the 25 years following the end of World War II. The disposals start about 20 miles off Charleston, at two spots called the Baker sites, just beyond the farthest artificial fishing reef managed by the S.
Department of Natural Resources. The unknowns are maybe the worst of the problem, said James Porter, a University of Georgia ecologist who studied underwater munition dumps off the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. At the close of the fighting, the War Department sent out an order to base commanders, "Get rid of your field of steel," he said, meaning excess munitions.
Also, it was common during the war years to hold target practice offshore. Off Vieques, where more than a million of tons of munitions were dumped, Porter found every marine animal he tested was positive for some sort of carcinogen, or cancer-causing substance, that came from the munitions.
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Onshore, he found "significantly elevated levels of cancer and several other types of chronic illnesses" among island residents. That stuff is corroding and the casements have been breached," he said. The corroding containers also might well be polluting the waters and marine life with cancer-causing substances, endangering people who eat seafood. The radioactive waste alone was so poorly secured that the sailors afterward tested high for radiation.
After the congressional report and wide media coverage, the Defense Department in reported the munitions don't pose significant harm when left in place.
Trying to remove or clean them up would cause more harm and the potential health effects appear to be minimal, it said. The report conceded there would be public health concerns if contaminated seawater is contributing to illnesses among sea life as well as seafood eaters and beach bathers, and that the munitions could potentially wash ashore.
It said those illnesses have been documented in the United States and abroad, but "they are relatively rare relative to the thousands of weapons dumped in the ocean," the report said. Several studies have been made but haven't determined the risk, the report continued. The studies did find the degradation of the containers and the spread of the chemicals "vary greatly between dump sites. A palpable sense of relief accompanied the final incineration.
Chemical Weapon Munitions Dumped at Sea: An Interactive Map
For the nearby Columbia River towns of Hermiston, Irrigon, Umatilla, Stanfield and Boardman, with a combined population of 40,, the destruction lifts a decades-old specter of a potential accident or explosion releasing a chemical cloud. Gallery: Umatilla Chemical Depot through the years as last of deadly mustard agents destroyed. The number of military workers will drop from to 78 by the end of URS Inc. Everybody here knew from the start that their jobs would end, he said. Others will join U. And some are likely to find themselves in Libya and Russia helping with weapons cleanups there.
Still undecided is what's to happen to the depot land when the Army's mission ends.
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Fish and Wildlife Service and local tribes. That plan ran aground last summer when the Army failed to destroy the last of the depot's war chemicals by a Sept. That missed deadline could mean the base will go to the U. General Services Administration, the government's property management agency, for disposal as it sees fit. Federal legislation is being considered to return the decision authority to the commission, Hackett said. Then there's the matter of a much-needed base cleanup. Portions of the depot remain littered with tons of unexploded conventional weapons, ordinance and debris.
Sandy-bottomed "washout lagoons" are filled with chemically contaminated soil where "pink water" saturated with high explosives was settled out in the s and s. That could take several years beyond the time allotted to demolish the incinerators, Perkins said. Also to be decided is the fate of 40 percent of the depot's land area that's covered with 1, steel-reinforced concrete storage igloos, including the highly secure igloo "K-block" where the war chemicals were stored.
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