Now What? A Tool to Help Commercial Fishermen Encountering Sea-Disposed Chemical Munitions.

Author:Mills, Danielle Shirk
Position:DIRECT FROM CDC ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
 
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Before the 1970s, disposal of excess, obsolete, or unserviceable munitions at sea was common. (Photo 1). It was believed that the vastness of ocean waters would neutralize chemical agents that might have leaked from these weapons. Sea-disposal operations included the disposal of conventional munitions of every type and chemical munitions with various chemical agent fills. Commercial fishing, clamming, and dredging operations can stir up these munitions and they can be encountered anywhere at sea, not just charted hazardous areas.

There is now increasing concern about environmental and human health effects associated with the disposal of these agents both on land and in the ocean. Environ mental health practitioners, especially those along coastal areas, should be aware that these incidents are occurring. Since 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been notified of several incidents in which personnel were exposed to chemical agents associated with recovered sea-disposed chemical munitions. Several of the reported incidents resulted in toxic chemical agent contamination/injuries to workers involved in commercial clam fishing operations. All incidents involved World War I-era blister agents recovered from previously unknown sea disposal locations off the U.S. East Coast. The first incident was the result of harvesting clamshells for the use as aggregate in concrete and for drive ways on the eastern shore of Delaware in 2004. A military explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technician developed substantial blistering (Photo 2) after responding to an incident off base in which an unknown projectile was recovered and destroyed by detonation (Fendick et al., 2013).

In 2010, commercial fishermen recovered an unknown number of munitions while dredging for clams off the coast of Long Island, New York. During the effort to dump the munitions back in the ocean, a munition fell on the deck of the boat, releasing a black liquid substance. Drops of the substance also landed on the clothing covering the leg and arm of a crew member. After several hours, two crew members felt ill and were transported to a local hospital for evaluation. One was evaluated and released, while the other developed small blisters on his forearm and upper thigh. These injuries were recognized as sulfur mustard exposure by a nurse trained in chemical agent injuries. Exposure was confirmed by chemical analysis (Fendick et al., 2013).

In 2012, a 75-mm projectile...

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