Hawaii scientists return to deep ocean to study chemical weapons dumped by military

University of Hawaii scientists plan to embark on a final expedition to deep waters off Oahu to study how chemical weapons dumped in the ocean decades ago are affecting seawater, marine life and sediment.

The research vessel Kilo Moana will leave port Wednesday, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported (http://bit.ly/1pyoSJF). It will deploy a remotely operated vehicle at a dump site 5 to 10 miles south of Pearl Harbor.

The vehicle, called Jason II, will be at sea for about a week. It is equipped with high-resolution video gear and a device that tests for chemicals.

The military used the ocean as a dumping ground for weapons between 1919 and 1970.

In 2007, the Army awarded the university $7.5 million to study munitions disposed of off Hawaii. The latest expedition is the last under this contract.

According to one military count, 181 tons of lewisite, 2,184 tons of mustard, 204 tons of cyanogen chloride and 2 tons of cyanide were dumped in at least four deep-water sites off Oahu.

Earlier studies of sediment samples collected less than 6 feet from suspected chemical munitions in deep water off Oahu revealed very low levels of mustard.

Nearby shrimp and sea stars living directly on top of suspected chemical munitions exhibited no adverse impact from munitions constituents, the university said.

So far the researchers have examined the effects of six bombs. There has been no sign of animals absorbing poison from these weapons, said Margo Edwards, UH principal investigator for the project.

"But six is a pretty small number compared to what it is that we're trying to look for," Edwards said. "So our hope is that with Jason, we can go and increase the number of samples that we've collected."


Information from: Honolulu Star-Advertiser, http://www.staradvertiser.com