Isle lawmakers seeking survey of weapons sites
The Army dumped chemical weapons off Oahu in the 1940s
Two Hawaii congressional lawmakers have introduced legislation requesting the military to survey and monitor areas off Oahu where as much as 15 million pounds of chemical munitions were dumped between 1944 and 1945.
U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka responded to a 2001 Army report that said the chemical weapons were tossed into the Pacific three times at undisclosed locations near Oahu.
The Army has said a report will be completed later this year.
Abercrombie and Akaka want their request to be included in the National Defense Authorization bill now pending in Congress.
In their request, the two want the military to:
» Conduct an underwater survey of the sites where the chemical weapons are believed to have been dumped.
» Monitor the dump sites.
» Study the long-term effects of sea water on the chemical munitions.
» Prepare a report on the public-health and environmental risks and the feasibility and the cost of removing the chemicals.
In November the Newport News Daily Press reported that in 1944 about 16,000 mustard gas bombs weighing about 100 pounds each were dumped five miles or more off Oahu.
A 2001 Army report said there were three ocean dumpings of chemical weapons by the Army, which could not pinpoint the locations.
However, the Army reported that it had disposed of conventional munitions south of Oahu and near the Waianae sewage outfall. Photos of other munitions were taken off Barbers Point.
Past reports indicate that the chemical weapons dumped during the war are 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 functions by interfering with oxygen use.
Chemical weapons experts have said these agents deteriorate over time into less hazardous substances.
Congress banned the practice in 1972. The United States signed an international treaty in 1975 that prohibits ocean dumping.
Akaka, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, "The Department of Defense has made tremendous strides in protecting the health and welfare of our citizens. However, given the hazardous risks that these munitions may pose, it is important for Congress to send the right message, specifically in this case, and ensure that the Army completes its survey, monitors the sites and provides a plan for remediation."
Abercrombie, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said, "The presence of these munitions in island waters raises serious questions of public health and safety. We need to get a handle on locations, quantities and potential dangers. Our goal is to get the facts and then move to a well-thought-out plan of action."