The deadliness below

January, 2006

Value Based Learning

The following report, excerpted from the Daily Press (10/31/2005), considers the environmental problems that resulted when the military used the water off the coastline of more than 11 countries as a ‘storage’ facility for their chemical weapons after World War II.

Scroll down to the end of the article for questions based  on the Earth Charter’s ethical principles to evaluate this manner of dealing with chemical weapon stockpiles. 

 As World War II drew to a close, the Army was faced with scant storage space in ordnance depots at home and huge chemical weapons stockpiles overseas. The solution: Dump the weapons off the coast of whatever country they were in.

The result: U.S.-made weapons of mass destruction litter the coasts of more than 11 countries - including Italy, France, India, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Denmark and Norway, according to a 2001 Army report recently released to the Daily Press. The chemical weapons remain there to this day. And they're extremely dangerous. Some of them have washed up on shore or been dredged up by fishermen. At least 200 people have been seriously injured over the years.

The Army now admits that it secretly dumped at least 64 million pounds of chemical warfare agents, as well as more than 400,000 mustard gas-filled bombs and rockets, off the United States - and much more than that off other countries, a Daily Press investigation has found. The Army can't say where all the dumpsites are. There might be more. "It's a disaster looming - a time bomb, say," said Dr. Gert Harigel, a well-respected physicist active in Geneva who's been active in international chemical weapons issues. "The scientific community knows very little about it. It scares me a lot."

A 1975 treaty signed by the United States prohibits ocean dumping of chemical munitions. But it doesn't address dump zones created before the treaty was signed. "Legally, nothing can be done," said Harigel, a member of the Geneva International Peace Research Institute. "But from a humanitarian point of view, they need to be pressured to do something."

The Daily Press uncovered an Aug. 24, 1944, memo - classified at the time as "restricted" - that revealed ....the United States kept stockpiles of chemical weapons during World War II in .... New Zealand, China, the former Soviet Union and unidentified "Latin American countries."....Other National Archives records detail two shipments of unidentified chemical weapons, totaling 20,000 pounds, in 1953 and 1954 from the United States to Fort Amador, Panama.

The Army said it informed the governments of those five unidentified countries in recent years of the dangers lurking off their coasts. But, it said, it was asked by those governments not to release the information to the public. Harigel said residents of those unidentified countries should be told by someone - either their governments or the Army - of the potential dangers...."Whether or not anything can be done at this point, the people there deserve to know," he said. "The danger increases with time. The shells are more and more corroding. The fishermen can easily get this stuff into their nets and get seriously hurt."

Scientists have determined that mustard agent damages DNA, causes cancer and survives for at least five years on the ocean floor in a concentrated gel. Nerve gas lasts at least six weeks in seawater, killing every organism it touches before breaking down into its non-lethal component chemicals.

Chemical-filled munitions now on sea beds are slowly leaking, and more surely will as years pass - depending on the depth of the water, the thickness of the containers and water temperature, according to a 2004 study by Jiri Matousek, a Czech scientist. The hazard of leaking shells likely will last for "another tens to hundreds of years," he concluded.

Japan's problems from U.S. chemical weapons dumping did not come to light until a government inquiry in 1973, after more than 85 fishermen were injured by chemical warfare agents dumped by either U.S. occupation forces or the Japanese military at the close of World War II. It wasn't until 2003 that Australia found on its own that the Army dumped more than 60 million pounds of chemical weapons off Brisbane. Australia pinpointed precise quantities and nautical coordinates. The Australian government has posted the area off-limits to mariners and released a well-publicized report on its findings.
.....[The] two [other] chemical weapons dumpsites in Canadian waters are off Sable Island and Nova Scotia, near the Grand Banks - one of the world's best fisheries. One site is spread out over at least 30 nautical miles (35 statute miles). It's presumed to have been created by the Canadian government after World War II ended.

"Fisheries are dying. The sea bottom is going bare. It's terrible," Kehoe said. "We are finding crab mutations that no one can explain. Cod are dying at their larval stage. Most of that stuff is starting to leach now" from their steel containers into the sea.

Over the decades, many fishermen overseas have been seriously injured after being exposed to U.S. chemical weapons dumps created after World War II. "Around the world, accidents have happened," the Army's Brankowitz said. "Fortunately, there has been nothing I would call colossal or catastrophic accidents."

Denmark's government estimates that chemical warfare agents dumped in the sea by either the United States or Britain have hurt 150 mariners and have been found washed up on shore. In 1984 alone, 11 Danish fishermen were burned by mustard gas while fishing in the Baltic. Crews of fishing boats off the Danish island of Bornholm routinely wear chemical protection suits when near a known chemical weapons dumpsite. Vessels working other areas of the Baltic are required to keep gas masks and special medical kits aboard. The problem is so bad in the relatively shallow Baltic; the seabed is surveyed every summer by Latvia, Russia and Finland to determine whether long-dumped chemical shells are leaking.

At least 52 Japanese were injured in 11 accidents off Japan at just one of eight known U.S. chemical ocean dumps, mostly of captured chemical weapons stockpiled by Japan. When the Japanese government publicized the locations of those dump areas in the 1970s, the number of injuries dropped.

Since 1946, five Italian fishermen have died and 232 were burned by mustard dumped by the United States, according to Italian scientists at the University of Bari. The Army does not dispute the findings. An Australian fishing trawler in 1983 snagged a 1-ton steel container of mustard agent, dumped off Cape Moreton in Australia by the United States, and pulled it to shore, a 2003 Australian government report indicated. No one was injured.

In 2003, the Australian government created an in-depth report on what it calls chemical warfare agent - or CWA - dumps, identifying exact latitudes and longitudes of U.S.- and Australian-created chemical weapons dumps. The information was released to the public and widely publicized in the news media there. "The publication of this paper will, hopefully, prevent accidents occurring at the CWA dump sites where coordinates have been revealed," the report concluded. "It will also, hopefully, encourage other governments to reveal locations of their CWA sea dumpsites for the same purpose."

That's something that the United States hasn't fully done and should, out of simple decency to its citizens and residents of other countries where the Army created chemical weapons hazards, said Switzerland's Harigel. "The government is not open to the public in the United States," he said. "There should be pressure put on them."

Excerpted from an article by that name authored by John M.R. Bull (Daily Press, October 31, 2005)

 A value-based ethical framework for evaluating social and ecological events, conditions and practices  Anita L. Wenden

Ecological sustainability
-How are Earth’s resources, her life-supporting systems and various forms of natural life affected by the dumping of chemical munitions into the ocean?

-Are attempts being made to remediate ill effects of this social practice? to ensure the preservation of the oceans for the future?

-Has the dumping of the toxic weapons lead to conflict? Is conflict possible? If yes, between which groups? Why? Is there a power imbalance between them? Is one group experiencing oppression?

-How is the conflict being resolved? the power imbalance? the oppression? Through physical force or aggression? psychological violence? Or is the conflict being ignored? the imbalances and oppressions endured? Or are attempts made to resolve these conditions nonviolently? If so, what are they?

Social Justice
-Are power, wealth, and/or resources used to benefit all the groups in the area? to ensure that they have access to what human rights allow?

-Or are they used in such a way that the human rights are violated? If so, which groups are suffering the impact of this violation? How? That is, which rights are being violated?

Participatory Decision-making
-In dealing with this problem, have the concerns of individuals and groups affected by the dumping of toxic weapon been solicited? Have their suggestions been taken into account? Have citizens taken their own actions to deal with the problem?
Does the military have a right to dump its unused chemical weapons into the sea? Share your views with a friend or using the Earth Charter principles to support your views.