Hawaii needs report on dumped weapons
The Army expects soon to finish a report on chemical weapons dumped in the ocean near Hawaii six decades ago.
PRELIMINARY findings in a brief Army report about the discarding of chemical weapons
more than 60 years ago indicate they were dumped mainly in deep waters far from Hawaii's shores. A more complete and thorough assessment is needed to determine the potential harm to people and the environment.
Information about the dumping surfaced in articles published several months ago by the Newport News (Va.) Daily Press. The newspaper reported that the Army knew the nautical coordinates of only half of the 26 ocean chemical dumpsites it created from 1944 to 1946 off the coasts of Hawaii and 10 other states. Congress banned the ocean disposal process in 1972.
The Army report, based on archives, identifies 15 million tons of chemicals dumped five miles or more off Oahu as mustard gas and Lewisite, a blister agent similar to mustard gas, as well as hydrogen cyanide and chloride. Mustard gas agents can cause DNA damage and cancer and can survive on ocean floors for at least five years in a concentrated gel.
Army rules required the dumping to occur in deep waters at least 10 miles from shore. However, a 2002 Army survey identified more than 2,000 munitions in waters ranging from only 15 to 240 feet deep between one-quarter and one-half mile from the Waianae sewage outfall.
Rep. Ed Case says the report indicates that "we're not dealing with the worst-case scenario that some perhaps had feared." A more complete report is needed to provide added assurance; a Hawaii fisherman was burned in 1976 while bringing up a mortar round filled with mustard gas.
To that end, Rep. Neil Abercrombie and Sen. Daniel Akaka appropriately plan to introduce legislation requiring an underwater survey of where chemical weapons are believed to have been dumped. It also will call for research about the long-term effects of sea water on chemical weapons and a report to Congress on risks to public health and the environment.
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