Military's chemical weapon ocean-dumping ticking time bomb human rights violation hits Gulf Coast
The Gulf Islands National Seashore will hold a press conference today in Ocean Springs to further alert the public to hazardous materials thought to be mustard gas chemical weapon found on Horn Island, a long, thin barrier island off the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, south of Ocean Springs and part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Gulf Islands National Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown will discuss today at a press conference the partial closure of Horn Island to the public due what appears to be mustard gas found there, according to the National Park Service.
"A preliminary test also indicated the possible presence of a chemical agent known commonly as mustard gas," Brown said.
"Additionally, based on an initial records search that was done, we have reason to believe that some containers of mustard gas may have been deposited in the island's Big Lagoon.We are therefore closing the portion of the lagoon that we own and we are notifying the owners of those nearby privately-owned tracts of the potential hazard."
When exposed to sea water, mustard forms a thick outer "crust" over a core of mustard that brings the mustard to the surface where it can injure unsuspecting fishermen and swimmers.
Park rangers have placed area closure signs around the perimeter of site, approximately 1,000 feet in all directions.
Military legacy of dumping chemicals of mass destruction into the oceans
For decades, the US military secretly dumped millions of pounds of decaying chemical weapons and nuclear waste into the oceans until the early 70's.
"The Army now admits that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard agents into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste - either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels," the Daily Press reported after its 2005 investigation.
"We don't want to be cavalier at all and say this stuff was exposed to water and is OK," said William Brankowitz, a deputy project manager in the Army Chemical Materials Agency and a leading authority on the Army's chemical weapons dumping during the Daily Press investigation.
"It can last for a very, very long time," Brankowitz said.
"We do not claim to know where they all are,"
Many canisters were leaking when dumped and most are likely leaking now, after many decades in seawater.
"A drop of nerve agent can kill within a minute. When released in the ocean, it lasts up to six weeks, killing every organism it touches before breaking down into its nonlethal chemical components," Daily Press reported. "Mustard gas can be fatal."
In June, British Petroleum asked the National Park Service for a list of potential chemical and biological hazards on Horn Island before deploying cleanup crews teams there as part of the Deepwater Horizon response Gulf Operation.
There are 32 disposal sites off United States shores, most with poorly known contents.
In a report, A plea for complete information, Peter Brewer believes it's time for the U.S. government to communicate openly about these toxic sites.
“It’s just one of those things where society has had a blind spot,” Brewer says. “Problems that aren’t talked about never get better.”
Sources: Mississippi Press; National Park Service; Daily Press; Bill Phillips; Ocean Dumping of Chemical Weapons, Noblis, Congressional Research Service report: U.S. Disposal of Chemical Weapons in the Ocean: Background and Issues for Congress; Dangerous unknowns—MBARI researcher points out lack of information on chemical weapons dumps in the sea; Brewer, P. and N. Nakayama. What lies beneath: A plea for complete information. Environmental Science and Technology 2008, March 1, 2008, pages 1394-1399.