Ordnance disposal areas in the Gulf of Mexico, indicated by solid blue boxes.
Texas A&M oceanographers William Bryant and Niall Slowey documented two such dumpsites in the Gulf of Mexico recently. They conservatively guess that at least 31 million pounds of bombs can be found not just in the Gulf but also off the coasts of at least sixteen states, from New Jersey to Hawaii.
Thousands of gallon containers of mustard gas lie strewn off the New Jersey coast, for example. And there are a total of seven dumpsites on the Gulf seafloor, each approximately 81 square miles, one at the mouth of the Mississippi River Delta.
“The amount that has been dumped was unbelievable,” Bryant said. “No one seems to have reported seeing explosives in the Gulf. We felt it was our responsibility to report it.”
A crab sits on a mustard gas canister that appears to be leaking. The existence of unexploded ordnance (UXO) is hardly a secret: Sea disposal of munitions was an accepted international practice until quite recently. But after half a century or more on the sea floor, the condition of the munitions is a dangerous unknown.
“Is there an environmental risk? We don’t know, and that in itself is reason to worry,” Bryant said. “We just don’t know much at all about these bombs, and it’s been 40 to 60 years that they’ve been down there.”
Lurking beneath the world's oceans is an estimated 200 million pounds of unexploded and potentially dangerous explosives -- from bombs to missiles to mustard gas.