Isle arms dumps raise questions
An Army report fails to offer specifics on risks, Abercrombie says
The Army has not yet disclosed where it dumped an estimated 15 million pounds of chemical weapons off Hawaii from 1944 to 1946, says U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie.
Abercrombie released an informational paper yesterday that said that in 2001 the Army reported three disposals of chemical weapons near Hawaii between 1944 and 1945. The report said the Army is still analyzing documents describing the chemical weapons disposals in Hawaii waters and expects to complete a report early this year.
In November, Abercrombie (D-Urban Honolulu), asked the Army for details of its secret ocean dumping program after the Newport News Daily Press in Virginia reported that in 1944 about 16,000 mustard gas bombs weighing about 100 pounds each were dumped five miles or more off Oahu in accordance with then-existing government guidelines.
WHAT THE ARMY REPORT REVEALS
A report on weapons disposal in the ocean off Hawaii shows:
A 2001 Army report notes three sea disposals near Hawaii of chemical weapons. The Army did not say where the disposals occurred, but the Army says it hopes to verify them early this year.
» The Army found 46 munitions -- small arms, large naval artillery shells, depth charges, a mine and a bomb -- in 1996 in water that was 820 to 1,740 feet deep between 2.5 and six miles south of Oahu.
» The Army found more than 2,000 military munitions in 2002 in water that was 15 to 240 feet deep about one-quarter to one-half-mile offshore near the Waianae sewage outfall.
» The University of Hawaii's Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory recently took photographs of munitions along the underwater sea wall near Barbers Point at a depth of 1,000 feet or deeper.
Abercrombie said in a news release that the Army's five-page progress report shows the need for "more thorough study."
The report, however, specifies locations of three conventional weapons sites: one south of Oahu, another near Barbers Point and a third with 2,000 military munitions near the Waianae sewage outfall.
The chemicals dumped off Hawaii, identified from Army archives, appear to be the blistering agents mustard gas and lewisite (which contains arsenic) in addition to hydrogen cyanide and chloride, which are described as blood agents that affect body functioning by interfering with oxygen use.
Abercrombie said he and Democratic U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka will introduce legislation mandating an underwater survey of where chemical weapons were believed to have been dumped; a research program on the long-term effects of sea water on chemical weapons; and a report to Congress on public health and environmental risks.
Experts say chemical agents deteriorate over time into less hazardous substances. The rate of degradation and possible release into the environment depends on a variety of factors ranging from temperatures, salinity and currents to the thickness of the bulk canister containing the agent.
U.S. Rep. Ed Case (D-Rural Oahu, Neighbor Islands), said he believed the study contained the relatively good news that the chemical weapons appear to have been dumped in deep waters far from shore.
The Army report said 1944 War Department procedures required that sea disposal sites be at least 300 feet deep and 10 miles from shore.
Case added it was good news that the types of chemical weapons dumped off Hawaii were those that would not pose the biggest threat. One of the varieties was mustard, which is only slightly soluble in water.
"So we're not dealing with the worst-case scenario that some perhaps some feared," Case said.
Previously, Army spokesmen have said that from World War I until the late 1960s, ocean dumping was the main way to dispose of munitions and chemicals. Open-pit burning and land burial were also used.
In the 1970s the Army publicly admitted to the dumping, and Congress banned the practice in 1972. The United States signed an international treaty in 1975 that prohibits ocean dumping.
In a statement, Abercrombie said, "No one knows exactly where these weapons are, how many tons are out there, what impact they're having on health and the environment or what we can do about it. It's important to start getting a handle on these questions."
As part of the site and chemical identification process, the Army is reviewing logs from ships involved in the disposal operation which should give coordinates and identify what was thrown overboard.
The Army is also analyzing the presence of conventional munitions in Hawaii waters that were dumped either as part of a disposal operation or training missions between 1925 and 1945.
The report said that in 1996 the Army conducted sonar and underwater surveys in waters 2.5 to six miles south of Oahu and identified 46 munitions on the ocean floor at depths ranging from 820 to 1,740 feet. The munitions identified included small arms, depth charges, artillery shells, a mine and a bomb.
The report also said that in 2002 an Army survey identified more than 2,000 munitions in the waters off the Waianae sewage outfall in an area known as Ordnance Reef. The munitions lie between one-quarter and one-half-mile from shore in waters ranging from 15 to 240 feet.
The report also said that the staff of the University of Hawaii's Undersea Research Laboratory has provided photographs of munitions found near Barbers Point in depths of 1,000 feet or more.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.