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Law directs pentagon to deal with ocean-dumped chemical weapons

Includes assessment of environmental impacts of ocean dump sites

For immediate release: Wednesday, October 18, 2006
Chemical Weapons Working Group*

As part of the 2007 Defense Authorization Act (314), signed into law by President Bush yesterday, the Pentagon will be required to perform multiple efforts associated with the dumping of chemical as well as conventional weapons off the coasts of the United States.

The law directs the Secretary of Defense to, among other things:

* conduct a historical review to determine the number, size, and probable location of sites where the Armed Forces disposed of military munitions in coastal waters;

* annually release new information to the Congress as such is discovered, including any environmental restoration activities associated with the review;

* identify known or potential hazards posed by disposed military munitions and inform potential affected users of the ocean environment of such potential hazards;

* determine whether such munitions have caused or are causing contamination;

* investigate the long-term effects of seawater exposure on disposed munitions, particularly effects on chemical munitions;

* investigate the feasibility of removing or otherwise remediating the munitions.

According to research done by the Chemical Weapons Working Group (CWWG), there are at least 32 chemical weapons dump sites located in the waters off the Eastern, Western and Gulf Coasts of the U.S. along with the waters surrounding Hawaii. These chemical weapons were disposed of sea dumping from World War I through 1970.

However, according to a 2006 report by the Congressional Research Service, "The Army's records did not note other instances of ocean disposal until 1941. Therefore, the extent to which ocean disposal may have occurred in between these years is unknown."

Because of the incompleteness of the records, estimating the precise quantity and types of weapons dumped is not possible. Preliminary research by the CWWG has identified at least 21,000 tons of chemical agents dumped off the U.S. coasts during the period. In addition to chemical weapons, over 75,000 tons of radioactive wastes were dumped in these areas between 1964 and 1968 alone.

CWWG Director, Craig Williams points out that many of these dump sites are located off the mainland coasts of major cities including Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles in the west; Boston, New York, Baltimore, and Miami in the east, and every major city along the Gulf.

"This is a huge and potentially dangerous situation that has been ignored for decades," said Williams. "Only recently, with exposures to fisherman in Hawaii and civilians in Delaware has attention been focused on the problem."

"The fundamental questions of what, how much, where and the potential impacts are just beginning to be asked," he noted. "However, the next time whales or dolphins 'mysteriously' beach themselves on one of our coasts, scientists might ask themselves if exposure to these lethal chemicals could be a contributing, or even a primary cause."

Copies of the section of the Defense Bill cited are available upon request from the CWWG office:

Chemical Weapons Working Group,
Kentucky Environmental Foundation,
P.O. Box 467,
Berea, KY 40403
phone: 859-986-7565; fax: 859-986-2695

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