Seawater may be pretty dangerous, depending on where you live. The US Army has admitted to dumping 64 million pounds (29 million kg) of nerve and mustard gas into the sea after World War II. In addition, Army officials say that 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets were tossed overboard, and that more than 500 tons of radioactive waste now rests on the ocean floor. From 1944 to 1970, at least 26 dump zones were used, ranging from the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico to the waters around California, Hawaii and Alaska.
In 2005, the Newport News Daily Press reported that military records are incomplete, meaning that there are probably more sites, including probable dumping activity after World War I. Aided by decades of saltwater corrosion, chemical weapons may be slowly spilling their contents, but the long-term environmental impact of these time-released chemicals is unknown.
Military chemicals in the world's oceans:
- A drop of nerve agent can kill within a minute. In the ocean, though, its effectiveness dissipates after six weeks. On the other hand, mustard gas becomes a crusty, deadly gel in seawater, lingering for at least five years.
- The Army said that most of the dumping occurred in deep water, and that it is not a danger to divers or commercial fishing operations. But the impact hasn't been adequately studied by scientists.
- Other countries have experienced similar problems. Chemical weapons were dumped off the Italian coast and about 35,000 tons of chemical munitions from World War I were found off the coast of Belgium.