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SC Group Seeks Data on Offshore Dumping

COLUMBIA, S.C.— The South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce has filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the U.S. Department of Defense seeking information on ammunition dumps in the Atlantic Ocean that contain conventional, chemical and radioactive weapons and materials.

Approximate locations of munitions disposals in the Mid-Atlantic. Source: Department of Defense

The organization has raised concerns about the potential for seismic exploration for oil and natural gas disturbing radioactive waste and toxic chemicals that were dumped into the ocean.

Information released years ago included maps showing the general locations of explosive and mustard gas munitions dumped off the North Carolina coast.

The chamber, which announced the filing Monday, also sent FOIA requests to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce for information on radioactive waste disposed of in the Atlantic.

“For over 60 years our country has used the Atlantic Ocean as a trash can for all kinds of toxic materials,” Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the chamber, said in a statement.  “According to a 2009 Defense Department report, ‘Prior to the 1970s … sea disposal was considered one of the safest alternatives available to dispose of munitions.’  That report indicates that over 17,000 tons of munitions with highly toxic materials have been dumped along the Atlantic Coast.”

Knapp noted that in the 1950s, the old Atomic Energy Commission approved the dumping of radioactive waste in 55-gallon drums in the ocean. “Industries creating other kinds of toxic wastes did the same,” he said.

The FOIA requests seek to identify the exact locations, types of toxic materials, containers used, weight of deposits and dates of the dumps. This information would be the basis for asking for mitigation strategies to prevent the disturbance of these toxic material dump sites should federal agencies approve seismic surveys in the Atlantic to explore for oil and gas deposits.

A retired member of the Navy bomb squad and expert on sea-dumped munitions has warned the National Marine Fisheries Service about seismic airgun blasts disturbing munition deposits. James Barton told the agency that the intensity of the seismic surveys “have ample power to disrupt severely corroded yet otherwise stable concentrations of sea dumped munitions.”  The result would be harmful to dolphins and beachgoers.

A 2016 Defense Department report to Congress concludes that disturbing these sea-disposed munitions would have serious consequences and it is best to leave the munitions in place.

The 2009 Defense Department report identifies the general locations of 33 munition dump sites in the Atlantic. Chemical agents in these deposits include the chemical warfare weapons materials of lewisite, mustard gas, sarin and arsenic.

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Staff Report

The story was compiled by staff members of Coastal Review Online.