“The U.S. Armed Forces disposed of chemical weapons in the ocean from World War I through 1970,” the Congressional Research Service recalled in a valuable new report (pdf).
“At that time, it was thought that the vastness of ocean waters would absorb chemical agents that may leak from these weapons. However, public concerns about human health and environmental risks, and the economic effects of potential damage to marine resources, led to a statutory prohibition on the disposal of chemical weapons in the ocean in 1972.”
“For many years, there was little attention to weapons that had been dumped offshore prior to this prohibition. However, the U.S. Army completed a report in 2001 indicating that the past disposal of chemical weapons in the ocean had been more common and widespread geographically than previously acknowledged.”
“The Army cataloged 74 instances of disposal through 1970, including 32 instances off U.S. shores and 42 instances off foreign shores. The disclosure of these records has renewed public concern about lingering risks from chemical weapons still in the ocean today.”
Some other recent CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News that are not readily available in the public domain include:
“Defense: FY2007 Authorization and Appropriations” (pdf), updated May 31, 2006.
“The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States” (pdf), updated May 5, 2006.
Update: The disposal of chemical weapons in the sea was extensively reported by John M.R. Bull of the Daily Press in Hampton Roads, Virginia. See his remarkable series “The Deadliness Below.” (Thanks to Robert McClure of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Dateline Earth.)