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Army is studying effects of dumping live ammo in sea


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POSTED: Tuesday, August 04, 2009

For the past two years, the Army has reviewed more than 2 million documents under a congressional mandate to pinpoint and determine the effects of dumping of chemical and conventional weapons into the ocean—which was banned in 1972.

To date, the Pentagon has spent $7 million to determine the location of these munition dumpsites in Hawaii, analyze the effects on the environment and determine ways to remove the unexploded ordnance.

Tad Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for the environment, safety and occupational health, is in town this week to meet with Army officials, University of Hawaii scientists involved in several of the ocean monitoring and testing programs and members of the staffs of Hawaii's congressional delegation.

He also will attend a special session of the Nanakuli and Waianae neighborhood boards tomorrow night to discuss the ongoing environmental issues at Makua Military Reservation, where the Army hopes to resume limited live-fire exercises at the end of this month.

Besides Hawaii, there were chemical weapons sea disposal sites in the Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico and off Alaska.

Off Oahu there were three areas where chemical weapons were thrown overboard—two off Pearl Harbor. One is 10 miles south of Pearl Harbor where the ocean depth is 10,000 feet; another is five miles south of Pearl Harbor at a depth of 1,000 to 1,500 feet. The third is believed to be 10 miles west of Waianae where the depth is 10,000 feet.

About 2,000 conventional munitions—weapons that are not nuclear, chemical or biological—were dumped in the shallow waters off Waianae known as Ordnance Reef.

The Army Corps of Engineers hopes to begin clearing the reef and the ocean bottom of conventional munitions at Ordnance Reef, using robotic techniques beginning next summer. The Pentagon's goal is to clear the water from the shoreline to 120 feet of unexploded munitions.

Davis said the Army will conduct another series of tests sampling the water, sediment, fish and limu living in the Ordnance Reef area later this month and in September. This is part of an ongoing study—the first done in May 2006, followed by another one last winter.

Davis said the Army, the university and other scientists are still studying the data and video obtained earlier this year by two UH deep-diving submersibles which scoured the ocean bottom at 1,500 feet, five miles south of Pearl Harbor.

The Army believes 16,000 M47-A2 bombs, containing 598 tons of mustard gas, were dumped there in 1944.

The Army says that between 1932 and 1944 chemical weapons such as blister agents lewisite and mustard gas and blood agents hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride were disposed in the area.

There are no current plans to remove these canisters.

Davis said the deep-water survey “;gave us a better understanding of disposal techniques.”;

It was believed before the survey was started that the chemical weapons were thrown overboard at one site. However, Davis said “;the (disposal) vessel was moving on a certain course and disposing of the munitions since they were found in a line on the ocean floor.”;

Ocean dumping of munitions and other materials is illegal without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency, according to the 1972 Ocean Dumping Act. The United States signed an international treaty in 1975 prohibiting ocean disposal of chemical weapons.