(CN) - The Trump administration's proposal to open large tracts of seabed off the South Carolina coast to oil and gas exploration has drawn a sharp rebuke from a statewide business advocacy group concerned about the thousands of unexploded bombs, poison gas and radioactive waste that were dumped in the planned exploration zone.
In a written a statement submitted to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Frank Knapp of the South Carolina Business Chamber of Commerce, said oil and gas exploration off the coast would increase the risk of disturbing long-dormant hazards and contaminating marine life harvested by fisherman up and down the east coast.
“We have a tremendous stake in our coastal economy and environmental health of ocean and coast," said Knapp, the chamber's chief executive officer. "We can’t have a healthy coastal economy if we don’t have a healthy ocean here in South Carolina."
The state's commercial fishing industry is only one of the sectors Knapp said he and his organization are concerned about if the oil and gas exploration plan goes forward. He said the chamber also fears for the region's tourist industry, and the potential health and safety risks the activity could post to recreational boaters and beachgoers.
“Should [the hazardous materials be released in the ocean], there would be a significant economic impact on the commercial fishing and tourism industry of the affected coastal areas resulting in significant economic loss to all local businesses and local government both immediately as word spread and long-term as the reputation of the tourism area is tarnished,” Knapp said.
He said because the location of the dumpsites are generally unknown, it is impossible to clean up the tons of chemical weapons and hazardous materials on the ocean bottom before exploration activities get under way..
“Since we don’t know where all the dumpsites are, we shouldn’t be blasting the ocean bottom with sonic air guns. No research has been done regarding the possible impacts of disrupting the deteriorated containers,” Knapp said.
According to the chamber, South Carolina is not alone in being at risk. Knapp said there is evidence that the Pentagon dumped munitions and radioactive waste up and down the Atlantic Coast, from Massachusetts to Florida.
In 2009, the Defense Department acknowledged the existence of 23 monition dumpsites in the Atlantic. Four are located of South Carolina’s coast, and there are five off Georgia’s coast and two off North Carolina’s coast.
The Defense Department report listed more than 17,000 tons of chemical agents that were disposed by the military in the 1940s and 1950s. The practice was common place at that time. These chemical agents include lewisite, mustard, sarin, VX, arsenic trichloride, arsenic, phosgene, cyanogens chloride, cyanide, tabun, sulfur monochloride and other unknown substances according to the report.
The report also stated that the cleanup of the sites poses a greater risk that leaving the munitions in place.
“Recovering the sea-disposed munitions may cause them to either break apart and release their contents or detonate," it said. "Either scenario can have an adverse effect on human health and the environment. An accidental detonation during recovery can destroy habitat, including protected or sensitive corals, injure mammals and other sea-life, or result in jury to works or the public.”
The chamber wants to federal government to deny requests for permits for seismic surveys in the Atlantic unless all the disposed munitions and radioactive waste sites are located, and a determination is made on the impact of air gun blasting will have on the materials and the containers many of them are stored in.
The Isle of Palms, a beach community just north of the City of Charleston, was the first South Carolina community to oppose the plan to open the ocean bottom to oil and gas exploration.
“We cannot risk disturbing these materials and thereby impacting our pristine environment. Even the thought of this sickens me,” said the community's mayor, Jimmy Carroll.
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