Shells for 1,000-pound explosives, thousands of rounds of ammunition and materials related to chemical warfare are some of the items jettisoned into the ocean off South Carolina coasts by the U.S. military 40 years ago.
Today, one South Carolina business group is concerned that Atlantic Ocean oil exploration could disturb and release toxins from those sites.
The dump sites are more than 50 miles from South Carolina's borders and are included in a 2009 Department of Defense report detailing more than 30 similar locations along United States coastlines.
The report states that up until 1970, the U.S. military used oceans as disposal sites for some of its materials. At the time, the deep water was consider to be one of the safest disposal locations.
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South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce wrote in a letter to the EPA stated there are two concerns with the disposal sites.
“There is a likelihood that munitions were disposed in the Atlantic outside of these designated sites and thus there are no records of these unofficial disposal locations or the materials in these unofficial disposal sites,” President and CEO Frank Knapp Jr. wrote.
The other issue is that ocean current might have moved some of the munitions from their official dump sites.
“These toxic chemicals and radioactive materials are an undisputable threat to our Atlantic Coast marine life, commercial fishing, tourism, local economies and the public in general,” Knapp wrote. “Our coastal communities should not be put in jeopardy because the federal government refuses to identify the toxic dangers that lie just off our coast and how seismic testing will impact the deteriorated containers.”
In 2009, the DOD released its last required report to congress about the practice and the items disposed at each site. That report was part of comments by the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce to the Environmental Protection Agency about Atlantic Ocean oil exploration.
Among the dump sites off U.S. coasts are numerous weapons, ammo and materials related to chemicals. Some of the chemicals include sarin gas, arsenic , cyanide and VX. Some sites in the Gulf of Mexico or off Alaska and Hawaii are only a few nautical miles from shore.
There are three disposal sites off the Palmetto coastline listed in the report. There are another five off North Carolina.
But, according to a DOD map, two of the five off North Carolina are close to the South Carolina sites, off the southern part of the state. There are no locations in the immediate vicinity of the Grand Strand coast.
The largest site in South Carolina features hundreds of thousands of pieces of munition that the DOD describes as empty bodies. The dumps off South Carolina include:
- 420,000 20mm projectiles
- 126 1,000-pound bombs
- 69 500-pound bombs
- 431 tons of unspecified ammunition
- 365,003 fuses
- 45 7.2-inch rockets
- 27 boxes of ordnance parts
According to the DOD report, those munitions were dumped 50 nautical miles from shore at a depth greater than 900 feet.
That site is by far the most extensive off South Carolina. One of the other other sites has 5,000 150-pound bombs and the final one has more than 14,000 30-pound bomb fragments.
One of the North Carolina sites, near South Carolina, has materials that were part of hazardous chemicals weapons. An example would be a bomb casing used for mustard gas.
Those chemicals were mustard, lewisite and phosgene. Mustard is commonly referred to as mustard gas and lewisite is a chemical agent that can cause blisters on the skin. Phosgene is a chemical weapon known for its grass-like smell.
Those materials are 135 nautical miles from the coast and at a depth of greater than 4,000 feet, according to the DOD report.