Monday, December 12, 2005

Who Cares When You Can Throw It All Away?

Kentuckians aren’t the only people who dump trash; the military does as well and now they are cleaning up the public mess. Recent discussion of innovations in military weapons systems, strategies, and technology prompted a reciprocal question: what happens to the old toys? Beyond selling them (secondhand goods by now) to other countries, a recent article on the AP reported that some 64 million pounds of chemical weapons were dumped between WWI and 1970 off U.S. coastlines (dump). In my previous presentation, you may recall that the measly 532 tons of chemical weapons stored at the Bluegrass Army Depot is currently a big deal. In fact, not only do dumping sites currently circle the U.S. mainland, but U.S. sites also exist in 16 other counties-most dumped after WWII.

However, other dimensions add interest to this issue-secrecy and destroyed evidence. Apparently the dumping practice-which seems so routine was kept secret until earlier this year when the Army released classified materials revealing the enormity of the weapons dumped. Furthermore, much of the paperwork detailing where the dumping had occurred has been destroyed. The Army only knows where half of the dumps are. Now, the military is seeking information from fishermen and victims of poisoning on where the missing locations may be. Some 200 serious injuries have occurred due to the leakage of chemicals from canisters worn apart after decades of the ocean’s salty abrasion (Daily Press).

These actions make one wonder what exactly was going on where classified materials had to be destroyed. Sure, sensitive materials are for selected eyes only, but why would the military want to purposely forget where it laid weapons? The Russians may have this trouble, but it is not the conduct of the U.S. Secondly, what should be done now? The U.S. is not liable for cleaning up the hazardous materials because a 1975 treaty banning the dumping of chemical weapons does not apply to pre-1975 dumping. Furthermore, those dumps in international waters carry increased complexity. Yet, fishermen and environmentalist believe it should be done for obvious reasons. Leaking mustard and nerve gas kills everything it touches in the water, and experts believe that even the WWI canisters pose serious threats for hundreds of years. In an era of billion dollar bombers and high tech revolutions, one should expect environmental cleanup to be an affordable higher priority of today’s mediocre EPA standards.