brad brace

3/23/2008

"Lost" Chemical Weapons and Other Pollutants from Military Actions

Filed under: General,global islands,military,resource,usa — admin @ 10:11 am

This is a special problem for small islands that have served as
military bases for the major powers. . . . When such bases are
abandoned or returned by the United States military services there is
a unique problem — the terms and conditions under which the local
country is assisted or endemnified for environmental or toxic
problems being left behind are NOT set by US Government law or
general regulation, but by negotiated agreements reached by the
military commander AT THE BASE at the time of closure. This form of
plausible deniability allows the US Government to say that they fully
comply with the law (there isn’t any!), and that the local host
government is in full agreement with the arrangements made.

Dumped chemical weapons missing at sea

THE last thing you might expect to encounter exploring the ocean
floor is a chemical weapon. But it seems hundreds of thousands of
tonnes of them have been dumped into the sea, and no one knows
exactly where the weapons are. Now, scientists are calling for
weapons sites to be mapped for safety’s sake.

Between 1946 and 1972, the US and other countries pitched 300,000
tonnes of chemical weapons over the sides of ships or scuttled them
along with useless vessels, according to public reports by the Medea
Committee, a group of scientists given access to intelligence data
so they can advise the US government on environmental issues.

But the military have lost track of most of the weapons because of
haphazard record keeping combined with imprecise navigation. Even
the exact chemicals were not always noted, though there are records
of shells, rockets and barrels containing sulphur mustard and nerve
agents such as sarin.

The Chemical Weapons Convention does not cover the destruction of
the sea-dumped weapons, which are considered abandoned. “There’s no
piece of legislation or treaty that deals with this stuff,” says
Peter Brewer, an ocean chemist at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research
Institute in Moss Landing, California. “It’s in limbo.”

If the chemicals leak from their containers, they will break down
slowly in the cold seawater. But it is unclear what will happen if
the chemicals bind to sediment or sink into anoxic zones, says
Brewer (Environmental Science and Technology, vol 42, p 1394).

A team led by Roy Wilkens at the University of Hawaii in Manoa is
planning to look for munitions dumped off the island of Oahu.
Records only note that the weapons were dumped about “five miles
south of Pearl Harbour”. Finding them will involve a search of 60
square kilometres, says Wilkens.

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