It seems unlikely that the weapons will begin to wash up on shore, but last year's discovery that a mustard-gas-filled artillery shell was dumped off New Jersey was ominous for several reasons:
It was the first ocean-dumped chemical weapon to somehow make its way to U.S. shores.
Most alarming: It was found intact in a residential driveway in Delaware.
It had survived, intact, after being dredged up and put through a crusher to create cheap clamshell driveway fill sold throughout the Delmarva Peninsula.
DECADES OF DUMPING
The Army's secret ocean-dumping program spanned decades, from 1944 to 1970.
The dumped weapons were deemed to be unneeded surplus. They were hazardous to transport, expensive to store, too dangerous to bury and difficult to destroy.
In the early 1970s, the Army publicly admitted it dumped some chemical weapons off the U.S. coast. Congress banned the practice in 1972. Three years later, the United States signed an international treaty prohibiting ocean disposal of chemical weapons.
Only now have Army reports come to light that show how much was dumped, what kind of chemical weapons they were, when they were thrown overboard and rough nautical coordinates of where some are.
The reports contain bits and pieces of information on the Army's long-running dumping program. The reports were released to the Daily Press - which cross-indexed them to obtain the most comprehensive, detailed picture yet of what was dumped, where and when.
To put the information in context, the newspaper also examined nautical charts, National Archive records, scientific studies and interviewed dozens of experts on unexploded ordnance and chemical warfare in the United States and overseas.
The Army's Brankowitz created the seminal report on ocean dumping. He examined classified Army records and in 1987 wrote a long report on chemical weapons movements over the decades. It included the revelation that more than a dozen shipments ended up in the ocean. The report wasn't widely disseminated.
His follow-up report in 1989 uncovered - through review of other previously classified documents - the rough nautical coordinates of some dumpsites and the existence of more dump zones. In 2001, a computer database was created to include additional dump zones that the Army found and more details on some of the dumping operations.
The database summary and the 1989 report had never been released publicly before.
"I know I didn't find everything," said Brankowitz, who's worked for more than 30 years on chemical weapons issues for the Army. "I'm very much convinced there are records at the National Archives that have been misfiled. Short of a major research effort that would cost a lot of money, we've done the best we can."
The reports reveal that the Army created at least 26 chemical weapons dumpsites off the coast of at least 11 states - but knows the rough nautical coordinates of only half.
At least 64 million pounds of liquid mustard gas and nerve agent in 1-ton steel canisters were dumped into the sea, along with a minimum of 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, grenades, landmines and rockets - as well as radioactive waste, the reports indicate.
The Army's documents are incomplete or vague. Years of records are missing or were destroyed to clear office space at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, a longtime chemical weapon research and testing base.
And the Army hasn't reviewed its records of chemical weapons dumping before World War II, when it was common to just throw the weapons into the ocean in relatively shallow water, Brankowitz said.
DECADES OF DUMPING CHEMICAL ARMS LEAVE A RISKY LEGACY