More than four decades after the U.S. halted a controversial ocean dumping program, the country is facing a mostly forgotten Cold War legacy in its waters: tens of thousands of steel drums of atomic waste.
From 1946 to 1970, federal records show, 55-gallon drums and other containers of nuclear waste were pitched into the Atlantic and Pacific at dozens of sites off California, Massachusetts and a handful of other states. Much of the trash came from government-related work, ranging from mildly contaminated lab coats to waste from the country’s effort to build nuclear weapons.
Federal officials have long maintained that, despite some leakage from containers, there isn’t evidence of damage to the wider ocean environment or threats to public health through contamination of seafood. But a Wall Street Journal review of decades of federal and other records found unanswered questions about a dumping program once labeled “seriously substandard” by a senior Environmental Protection Agency official…
Concerned about the Farallon site, the California legislature passed the 1983 law calling for fish sampling in the area, where commercial fishing occurs. A spokeswoman for the California Department of Public Health said the law only required reports as funds were available, and they haven’t been since 1991. Plus, she said, researchers “didn’t find anything in the first survey.”
“I would beg to differ,” Thomas Suchanek, the principal investigator and lead author of the 1991 study, said recently. The study found americium, a radioactive decay product of plutonium, in some fish samples from the site as well as a comparison area about 60 miles away. The report calculated that plutonium in underwater sediment at the dump site was up to about 1,000 times normal background levels.
Research Credit: RP
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