Online edition of Shunpiking
Thursday, Jan 01, 2004
Seismic Vibes

Seismic tests, chemical munitions and the fishermen

By MYLES KEHOE*, Special to Shunpiking Online

(MARGAREE FORKS, December 3, 2003) -- Since 1992 I have been researching the whereabouts of Canada's Second World War mustard gas munitions: shells, bombs, mines and grenades charged with this deadly blister agent.

My research uncovered the fact that Canada was a world leader in the development, testing and production of chemical weapons from 1939 to 1945. Most artillery shells filled with mustard gas were manufactured by CIL's plant at Cornwall, Ontario. These shells were shipped overseas to the front lines immediately upon production.

Thankfully those awful weapons were never used. In the years following WWII, Canada and the United States disposed of their large arsenals of chemical and conventional weapons by the most economic means possible: dumping at sea.

Newspaper accounts from early 1946 tell how fishermen from Newfoundland and Nova Scotia protested the proposed dumping of over 2800 tons of mustard gas off of Sable Island, fearing it would harm their fishing grounds.

The fishermen were ignored, and the dumping occurred. Disposal of munitions continued until the 1960s off Canada's Atlantic coasts. What was unknown at the time was that mustard gas forms a thick goo in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic, remaining active indefinitely if undisturbed.

NATO calls ocean-dumped chemical; weapons "ticking time bombs" because the hardened steel artillery shell casings are only now corroding through and beginning to release their deadly cargo into the marine environment.

Other coastal countries, notably Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Norway, Sweden and Russia, recognize the threat that this leaking mustard gas poses, especially to fishermen and petroleum workers. Funds have been allocated to reputable scientists who are studying the effects of these leaking chemical weapons on the marine environment, and developing action plans.

In June 2002, Canada's Minister of Fisheries stated that "DFO has not conducted any studies on the toxicity or behavior of mustard gas in water as DFO's labs are not equipped to deal with such highly toxic substances."

In September 2002, evidence was presented to CNSOPB's Ad Hoc Working Group that munitions dumped off the Magdellan Islands could have been carried by strong ocean currents to the west coast of Cape Breton. In April, a spokesman from National Defence headquarters in Ottawa admitted on CBC-Radio Canada News that they don't know the effects seismic testing would have on old, ocean-based munitions.

Despite these warnings, CNSOPB recently gave permission to Corridor Resources to conduct seismic testing off the west coast of Cape Breton, using shock waves of over 240 decibels in their search for natural gas.

In 1946, Maritime fishermen protested munitions dumping, fearing it could harm their fishing grounds. Fifty-seven years later, science is proving that their concerns were justified.

Today, fishermen are protesting that seismic testing off the west coast of Cape Breton can cause irreparable harm to their fishing grounds. Science can present little data on the safety of seismic in this rich and relatively shallow coastal environment. Once again, they are being ignored.

The Regulatory Board, federal, provincial and municipal leaders are not listening to the fishermen. Natural gas, if it is there, promises bigger revenues than the fisheries.

The fishermen have three options: to allow seismic to proceed, to protest as the gentlemen that they are and hope that the regulators will listen to them rather than to the voices of Big Oil, or to actively protect their fishing grounds in a manner that will prevent the seismic testing from proceeding.

I urge the public to join with our fishermen should they call for our support. Their fathers were right in 1946, and science may prove today's fishermen right should seismic testing result in the destruction of fragile larval crab, lobster, and larval fish. This is tomorrow's food supply for us all.

Saying "I told you so" gets us nowhere. Saying "NO!" is always more effective. This is a word that regulators, elected representatives and industry must learn to obey.

*A resident of Margaree Forks, Cape Breton, Myles Kehoe has been researching the dumping of chemical munitions in Canadian waters for the past ten years.