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)

Over the decades, many fishermen overseas have been seriously injured after being exposed to U.S. chemical weapons dumps created after World War II.

"Around the world, accidents have happened," the Army's Brankowitz said. "Fortunately, there has been nothing I would call colossal or catastrophic accidents."

Denmark's government estimates that chemical warfare agents dumped in the sea by either the United States or Britain have hurt 150 mariners and have been found washed up on shore. In 1984 alone, 11 Danish fishermen were burned by mustard gas while fishing in the Baltic.

Crews of fishing boats off the Danish island of Bornholm routinely wear chemical protection suits when near a known chemical weapons dumpsite. Vessels working other areas of the Baltic are required to keep gas masks and special medical kits aboard.

The problem is so bad in the relatively shallow Baltic, the seabed is surveyed every summer by Latvia, Russia and Finland to determine whether long-dumped chemical shells are leaking.

At least 52 Japanese were injured in 11 accidents off Japan at just one of eight known U.S. chemical ocean dumps, mostly of captured chemical weapons stockpiled by Japan.

When the Japanese government publicized the locations of those dump areas in the 1970s, the number of injuries dropped.

Since 1946, five Italian fishermen have died and 232 were burned by mustard dumped by the United States, according to Italian scientists at the University of Bari. The Army does not dispute the findings. An Australian fishing trawler in 1983 snagged a 1-ton steel container of mustard agent, dumped off Cape Moreton in Australia by the United States, and pulled it to shore, a 2003 Australian government report indicated. No one was injured.

The partially full container was snared in relatively shallow water not far from where the Army now admits it dumped an estimated 32,000 tons of mustard agent and toxic Lewisite in drums and hundreds of thousands of chemical-filled artillery shells.

It was the second time that a trawler in the area pulled up a 1-ton mustard gas container dumped by the United States. The first was Jan. 17, 1970.

A few years later, a similar, partly full container washed up on shore.

No one was injured in those two incidents.

In 2003, the Australian government created an in-depth report on what it calls chemical warfare agent - or CWA - dumps, identifying exact latitudes and longitudes of U.S.- and Australian-created chemical weapons dumps.

The information was released to the public and widely publicized in the news media there.

"The publication of this paper will, hopefully, prevent accidents occurring at the CWA dump sites where coordinates have been revealed," the report concluded.

"It will also, hopefully, encourage other governments to reveal locations of their CWA sea dumpsites for the same purpose."

That's something that the United States hasn't fully done - and should, out of simple decency to its citizens and residents of other countries where the Army created chemical weapons hazards, said Switzerland's Harigel.

"The government is not open to the public in the United States," he said.

"There should be pressure put on them."