Thursday, May 25, 2006


NOAA to study weapons left at sea


The Honolulu Advertiser
May 24, 2006

Federal authorities say they will survey an area off Wai'anae starting next week to assess dangers posed by decades-old munitions lying on the ocean floor.

The military will decide what to do about the weapons in Ordnance Reef, as the area is known, after the study is finished, said Christopher Rodney, a spokesman for U.S. Army Pacific.

He said the military won't retrieve the weapons during the survey because the two-week project is designed to study, not clear, the area.

An Army analysis of archived records earlier this year concluded over 2,000 conventional munitions were lying in Ordnance Reef, a spot off Poka'i Bay. Chemical weapons are not believed to be among them.

Chemical weapons dumping sites are believed to be farther from shore, and at greater depths, than Ordnance Reef.

Hawai'i residents have grown increasingly concerned about weapons deposited off local shores after news reports last year said the Army had dumped chemical munitions in at least 26 locations off the coasts of 11 states over several decades.

The military identified two locations off Hawai'i where it deposited 2,600 tons of mustard gas, cyanogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide and lewisite from 1944 to 1946.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is leading the Wai'anae study, due to start Sunday and last for two weeks, at the request from the Defense Department.

Researchers will use underwater mapping technology and submersible robots to look for the weapons over 5 square nautical miles. Robots and divers will collect water, fish and sediment samples.

"This survey is specifically designed to identify what's out there and do the best assessment if there are any threats to the environment and the people off the Wai'anae coast," Rodney said.

He said concerns expressed by the Wai'anae community to Thad Davis, the Army's deputy assistant secretary for the environment, about Ordnance Reef in part precipitated the survey.

David met with Wai'anae residents in March. At that meeting, he also said chemical weapons dumped off Hawai'i's coast didn't pose an immediate threat to the health and safety of the people of the Islands.

He added that the military had no plans to remove the weapons. Members of Hawai'i's congressional delegation, however, have asked the military to survey and remove the weapons.

Davis told Wai'anae residents that the military made chemical weapons during World War II so it would have retaliatory capability if such weapons were used against the U.S.

The military dumped the weapons in the ocean because that was deemed safer than open burning or land burial, Davis said.


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