Barge piled high with mustard gas

A barge is loaded with mustard gas canisters that later were thrown somewhere into the Atlantic in 1964. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army)

As World War II drew to a close, the Army was faced with scant storage space in ordnance depots at home and huge chemical weapons stockpiles overseas.

The solution: Dump the weapons off the coast of whatever country they were in.

The result: U.S.-made weapons of mass destruction litter the coasts of more than 11 countries - including Italy, France, India, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Denmark and Norway, according to a 2001 Army report recently released to the Daily Press.

The chemical weapons remain there to this day. And they're extremely dangerous.

Some of them have washed up on shore or been dredged up by fishermen. At least 200 people have been seriously injured over the years.

The Army now admits that it secretly dumped at least 64 million pounds of chemical warfare agents, as well as more than 400,000 mustard gas-filled bombs and rockets, off the United States - and much more than that off other countries, a Daily Press investigation has found.

The Army can't say where all the dumpsites are. There might be more.

The Army is missing years of records on where it secretly dumped surplus chemical weapons from the close of World War II until 1970, when the practice was halted. It hasn't reviewed any records of post-World War I at-sea chemical weapons dumping but knows the practice was commonplace at the time.

More than 30 U.S.-created chemical weapon dumpsites are scattered off other countries, the newly released Army report indicated. It was created by the chemical weapon historical research and response team at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland.

"It's a disaster looming - a time bomb, say," said Dr. Gert Harigel, a well-respected physicist active in Geneva who's been active in international chemical weapons issues. "The scientific community knows very little about it. It scares me a lot."

The United States isn't legally bound to do anything about the dangers that it created in the oceans, whether from its own weapons it dumped or those of captured enemy stockpiles.

A 1975 treaty signed by the United States prohibits ocean dumping of chemical munitions. But it doesn't address dump zones created before the treaty was signed.

And the overseas chemical dumpsites are presumed to be in international waters, inoculating the U.S. government from legal responsibility, Peter Kaiser said. He's a spokesman for the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, based at The Hague, Netherlands.

"Legally, nothing can be done," said Harigel, a member of the Geneva International Peace Research Institute.

"But from a humanitarian point of view, they need to be pressured to do something."

At the least, Harigel said, the U.S. government should monitor the chemical dumpsites that it created and spread warnings if environmental evidence shows they're leaking.


In recent years, the Army quietly has gone through decades-old classified records and identified five other countries where U.S. chemical-laden bombs, rockets and grenades were thrown into the sea. The names of those countries remain classified, but records at the National Archives provide hints.

The Daily Press uncovered an Aug. 24, 1944, memo - classified at the time as "restricted" - that revealed in which other Allied countries the United States kept stockpiles of chemical weapons during World War II.