Several times a year, the US publicizes its “war games,” both domestic and abroad, allowing the massive, heavily-funded US military to showcase its might, develop new strategies, and test combat readiness. Yet, ignored all too often is the environmental impact of these exercises which, since World War I, have left behind tons of bombs, heavy metals, explosives, depleted uranium, missiles, and sonar buoys, which contaminate the world’s oceans and harm humans and marine animals alike.
Even though the outright dumping of chemical weapons was banned in 1972, the Navy has continued to carry out a policy of “leaving behind” munitions and explosives following its military exercises. The Navy, for its part, insists that the “contamination of the marine environment by munitions constituent is not well documented,” though critics insist that the Navy has intentionally not looked for or measured its environmental impacts.
Indeed, this claim of the contamination not being “well documented” shows a willful ignorance of the abundant evidence that these pollutants have caused great harm to the environment, considering that even the US government admits that the Navy has been responsible for creating thousands of contaminated sites around the world.
The Department of Defense, which includes the Navy, is the world’s largest polluter, producing more toxic waste annually than the five largest US chemical companies combined. In 1990, the Department of Defense admitted to having created more than 14,000 suspected contamination sites around the world. In 2014, the officially reported number rose to 39,000, but the actual figure is likely far greater.
Recently, the Navy’s path of environmental destruction has made headlines. In 2014, the Navy was caught illegally dumping wastewater into one of the world’s largest marine reserves. This past June, Pennsylvania’s governor urged over 70,000 residents from three different counties to sue the Navy over the contamination of their drinking water. The lawmaker suggested suing the Navy just for the funding to pay for blood tests proving how polluted their own bodies had become with heavy metals and other toxic substances. Just last month, the Port of San Diego sued the US Navy, as the Navy’s injection of toxic chemicals into the coastal waters threaten to contaminate the entire bay.
Now, the Navy has just announced its plan to release 20,000 tons of environmental “stressors” (i.e. toxic munitions, explosives, etc) into the coastal waters of the US Pacific Northwest. The plan is laid out in the Navy’s Northwest Training and Testing environmental impact statement (EIS). These “stressors” are documented by the EPA as known hazards, many of which are highly toxic at both acute and chronic levels.
One of these chemicals is perchlorate. Perchlorate is incredibly persistent in the environment and it often appears in the breast milk of women exposed to perchlorate-contaminated water. It also affects children and fetuses much more than they affect adults. Another common chemical, picric acid, can cause severe poisoning if only one gram is ingested. Others, such as TNT, remain chemically active in aquatic environments, bioaccumulate in fish, and can cause developmental and physiological problems in humans.
That’s not even the worst of it. The 20,000 tons of “stressors” mentioned in the EIS does not account for the additional 4.7 to 14 tons of “metals with potential toxicity” that the Navy plans to release annually into the inland waters along Puget Sound in Washington State, a heavily populated area including major population centers such as Seattle.
In response to concern, a Navy spokeswoman said that heavy metals and even depleted uranium was no more dangerous than any other metal, a statement which is a clear rejection of scientific fact. It seems that the very US Naval operations meant to “keep Americans safe” comes at a higher cost than most people realize, one that will be felt for generations to come.