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WWI ship's log shows it dumped munitions off Surf City

 
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BerichtGeplaatst: 20 Sep 2008 6:08    Onderwerp: WWI ship's log shows it dumped munitions off Surf City Reageer met quote

WWI ship's log shows it dumped munitions off Surf City


By DONNA WEAVER Staff Writer, 609-978-2015
Published: Sunday, September 07, 2008

The log of a World War I-era military ship chronicles how it dumped weapons off the shores of the East Coast - including off Surf City, where munitions were found in 2007.

In February 1919, the USS Elinor traveled the coast from Baltimore to New York, dumping leftover weapons as it moved toward its final destination of Brooklyn, N.Y.

According to a 2007 Congressional Research Service report, the U.S. military dumped weapons in the ocean from the end of World War I through 1970. The Elinor was one ship of many that dumped off the coast during an almost 50-year-period.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says that of the more than 1,100 munitions discovered on the beaches in Surf City following a beach-replenishment project, none was a chemical weapon.


But the locations of many of the sites where the U.S. Army dumped chemical agents are unknown, according to the 2007 report for Congress. The report was prepared by David M. Bearden, an analyst in the Environmental Policy Resources, Science and Industry Division with the Congressional Research Service.

Bearden wrote that attempts to locate most of the dump sites would be difficult at best, if not impossible in some cases. One of the biggest obstacles is the possibility that ocean currents may have moved the weapons, according to Bearden.

The Army Corps has said it conducted a scan in its borrow site before pumping sand onto the beaches in late 2006, but failed to discover the munitions, fuzes and boosters that ended up being pumped ashore in Surf City. Keith Watson, manager of the Surf City project, says the Army Corps will use the same borrow site for the rest of the project on Long Beach Island, but with a smaller dredge screen.

"That's the approved borrow site. If we didn't use it, we would have to go out and research a new area," Watson said. "And there's no guarantee that other areas don't have munitions."

Richard Albright, author of "Cleanup of Chemical and Explosive Munitions," said a smaller screen would work for catching shells, but the fuzes usually are pretty small.

"It seems to me if you put a grate on that is small enough to catch a fuze with a booster attached, they're going to catch a lot of seashells, too, and that's going to clog up quickly," Albright said.

He would not say the items pumped onto Surf City's beaches were from the USS Elinor, but said they either were dumped very close to the shore or washed in from another dump site.

The borrow site from which sand was pumped onto the beaches is located 2 miles off the shores of Surf City.

"Where?" Albright said when asked if the corps should choose another borrow site. "That stuff is out there everywhere. If I knew of another place, I would tell them."

Albright, a former Army officer, is an expert in weapons of mass destruction, an attorney and holds a master's degree in environmental health and a doctorate in environmental science.

Speaking by phone from his home in Grasonville, Md., Albright talked about the chemical weapons - such as mustard gas and liquid, phosgene and other gases - that were dumped all along the East Coast on the final voyage of the USS Elinor. Albright provided a copy of the ship's log to The Press.

The ship carried trucks, ammunition and general cargo for the Army.

According to the ship's log, on Feb. 11, 1919, heavy dumping began off the coast of Surf City, latitude 39.66 North, longitude 74.17 West. Dumping started at latitude 36.49 North and longitude 74.42 West.

"That's about 200 miles, but off the coast of Surf City," Beach Haven boat captain Robert Yates said.

Yates said he has come across many wrecks and items that have been dumped off the coast of LBI.

"It's clear how much was on that ship because if you look at the log the ship was loaded for two weeks," Albright said. "That's a lot of dumping off the New Jersey coast."

Drums of phosphorous, mustard gas and phosphine gas, and mustard shells and 75 mm shells were dumped off the Elinor, according to the log.

The crew was instructed to travel 15 miles offshore to begin dumping the shells and further out for drums, Albright said.

"They went further out and dumped the drums first because they were the most dangerous," Albright said.

Just after 5 p.m., on Feb. 11, 1919, the log states the crew began dumping shells off the ship in about 100 feet of water 42 miles off the coast. At 9 p.m., the crew began unloading phosgene tanks and dumping them.

"Some drums floated, they called those floaters, and they had to have a sharpshooter shoot the drums to sink them," he said.

But they missed one phosgene tank due to the darkness and speed of the ship, the log states.

According to Albright, phosgene can severely damage the lungs. The colorless gas was a chemical weapon during World War I, he said.

Albright said he thinks the Elinor could have been traveling right along the shore when dumping shells.

"They were dumping 15 miles out in only 100 feet of water. Can some of those things wash in? Sure, when you get storm action, shells can work toward the surface. They were zigzagging up the coast," Albright said.

E-mail Donna Weaver:

DWeaver@pressofac.com

© http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com/183/story/250713.html
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