UH, Army to scour for bombs in ocean
The Army will again partner with the University of Hawaii this August on a $2.3 million underwater survey to try to pinpoint the location of nearly 600 tons of chemical weapons believed to have been dumped five miles south of Pearl Harbor in 1944.
Eric De Carlo, UH oceanography professor, said the more extensive part of the underwater survey will involve the use of the Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory submersibles Pisces IV and Pisces V in November.
The Army says it believes that 16,000 M47A2 bombs containing nearly 600 tons of mustard agent were dumped in the area around Oct. 1, 1944. Each chemical bomb weighs 100 pounds and is nearly 32 inches long. The depth in the areas is estimated at between 1,000 and 1,500 feet.
Tad Davis, deputy assistant secretary of the Army for the environment, safety and occupational health, told reporters yesterday that the Pearl Harbor site is one of three known chemical weapons dumpsites that were found during what he described as "the largest research project" ever undertaken by the Army. The Army pored over a more than a million documents housed at the National Archives in Maryland and Washington, D.C., dealing with the way chemicals were disposed between 1919 and 1972, when the practice of ocean dumping was banned.
Besides the site the Army and the University of Hawaii scientists will examine this summer, the Army believes there are two other dumping areas in Hawaii waters.
The largest amount of chemical weapons is believed to have been dumped in an area 10 miles west of the Waianae Coast, where nearly 2,000 tons of lewisite, mustard, hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride were discarded.
Lewisite and mustard are blister agents, which produce irritation and damage to the skin and mucous membranes, pain and injury to the eyes and, when inhaled, damage to the respiratory tract. Hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride are blood agents, which, when inhaled, interfere with the tissue oxygenation process, especially in the brain.
An additional 29 tons of mustard were disposed of 10 miles south of Pearl Harbor.
Chemical weapons were routinely dumped into the ocean from the end of World War II until outlawed by Congress in 1972, Davis added.
Except for the lewisite, the chemicals were contained in bombs, projectiles and mortar shells. The lewisite was housed in large containers. Some of the chemical bombs were 1,000-pounders containing hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride.
De Carlo said the methodology will be similar to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration project last year that surveyed the area known as Ordnance Reef off Pokai Bay. That survey took two weeks and combed a 5-square-mile area using sophisticated sea floor mapping and imaging equipment. NOAA concluded in March that there was little contamination from the conventional munitions found there.