A Warning About Buried Munitions Off Oahu's Leeward Coast

Tad Davis
Tad Davis

LEEWARD COAST (KHNL) - "With regard to military munitions, it appears they, too, are in a safe condition as long as they're not moved," said Tad Davis, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment Safety and Occupational Health. "And that's the greatest risk we found right now, if recreational divers or souvenir hunters go out there and try to touch or remove one of those munitions. We think that may be a tremendous amount of risk."

A stern warning from the United States Army about buried munitions off the leeward coast. Military officials are working with local and state agencies to find a safe way of removing them.

Experts say those munitions don't pose any immediate danger if left alone. But regular beachgoers on the Waianae coast said they can't help but feel a certain sense of nervousness.

These kids celebrate their last week of school at Pokai Bay.

Just a few miles off shore is one of three military ammunition burial sites. One is five miles south of Pearl Harbor, another is 10 miles south of Pearl Harbor, and the one near Pokai Bay, 10 miles off the Waianae coast.

"I think that it might be kind of dangerous to us since we're swimming over there, maybe some of the gunpowder might get out into the ocean," said Howard Lestrong, a 12-year-old Maili resident who was among the students enjoying "Beach Day."

"It makes me kind of scared because as a teacher, I'm supposed to protect my students," said Heidi Sigvardsen, a school teacher at Maili Bible School.

But experts say munitions buried about 10 miles off shore don't pose any immediate risks. Officials are looking into their potential long term effects.

At this point, they can't say the munitions are a hundred percent safe.

"There are data gaps that prevent us from saying there are no long term health threats," said Dr. Dave Reed, a chemical environmental engineer.

They need to do more studies to arrive at a comprehensive answer.

"But you don't know what you don't know," said Davis. "So that's why the next important step in the process is go out there like we were going to do, south of Pearl, and get eyes on these munitions."

The United States Army is working with state and local agencies to find the safest way to remove them.

Waianae kids hope they find answers soon.

"Everybody's important whether you're big or small," said Lestrong. "You mean something in the world, and everybody should get a chance to live a life."

A life of not having to worry about buried ammunition from more than sixty years ago.

Military officials don't have a schedule just yet. They want the involved parties to have as much information as possible before making time tables.

If divers find munitions, they should leave it alone, don't even touch it, and report it to the coast guard or police. It's best to err on the side of caution, according to officials.