U.S. Disposal of Chemical Weapons in the Ocean: Background and Issues for Congress [Updated October 13, 2006]   [open pdf - 136KB]

"The U.S. Armed Forces disposed of chemical weapons in the ocean from World War I through 1970. At that time, it was thought that the vastness of ocean waters would absorb chemical agents that may leak from these weapons. However, the U.S. Army completed a report in 2001 indicating that the past disposal of chemical weapons in the ocean had been more common and widespread geographically than previously acknowledged. The risk of exposure to chemical weapons dumped in the ocean depends on many factors, such as the extent to which chemical agents may have leaked into seawater and been diluted or degraded over time. Public health advocates have questioned whether contaminated seawater may contribute to certain symptoms among coastal populations, and environmental advocates have questioned whether leaked chemical agents may have affected fish stocks and other marine life. Whether the risks are low or high, how to respond to them is fraught with many challenges. The primary obstacle is locating the weapons in the ocean. In the event that the weapons are located, retrieving them from the seabed could be technically challenging and could introduce new risks during retrieval and transport for onshore disposal. Leaving located weapons in place, and warning the public to avoid these areas, may be more feasible and involve fewer immediate risks. However, long-term risks would remain. Responding to potential risks is further complicated by insufficient information to reliably estimate response costs and by the uncertain availability of federal funding to pay for such actions."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL33432
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