UH study: Chemical munitions pose no threat for now

UH study: Chemical munitions pose no threat for now
Margo Edwards
Margo Edwards

By Mari-Ela David - bio | email

PEARL HARBOR (HawaiiNewsNow) - They're safe for now. There's no threat to humans or the ocean so far.

That's word from the University of Hawaii (UH) about a military chemical dump site off Oahu. But scientists say it could pose a hazard in the future.

Results from a three-year study were released on Tuesday.

Findings show the World War II munitions buried at sea are still intact, but they are corroding, which means one day, they could leak chemicals into the ocean.

It's an underwater landfill, five miles south of Pearl Harbor, as deep as 1500 feet.

The area, called HI-05, is littered with 16,000 bombs, each packed with 73 pounds of mustard.

"It's a chemical blistering agent that if it comes in contact with your skin it'll give you horrible blisters," said Margo Edwards, UH Senior Research Scientist.

Edwards worked with the U.S. Army on the $3 million study.

Crews used underwater vehicles to take samples of sediment, diving 16 times.

They found 2000 munitions, but none proved hazardous.

Only one sample detected a trace of mustard.

"But it was so small that when we tried to reprocess it two, three, four times, we didn't see it again," said Edwards.

UH even collected shrimp and fish.

None looked like they ingested anything toxic.

But Edwards says they didn't get close enough.

"We never put a shrimp trap right next to a munition to catch the shrimp right there. They were probably within 50 feet of a munition," said Edwards.

That's why Edwards is negotiating with the Army to fund another study.

She says there are tens of thousands more munitions to find.

The military dumped 2600 tons of them after World War II.

Many are rusting, and it's just a matter of time before they leak.

"They are deteriorating. They just haven't gotten to the point where they've sort of broken open," said Edwards.

How long before they pollute the ocean with chemicals?

Edwards says no one knows.

Edwards says getting rid of munitions is tricky.

Burning them will give off mustard gas, and inhaling it causes blisters in the lungs.

If you bury them, the chemicals could leak into the ground water supply.

That's why in the 40's, the military decided to dump them in the water.

In 1976, a dredging crew of scientists got burned off Pearl Harbor when they accidentally pulled munitions out of the water.

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