Q1. What do we know about the munitions at Ordnance Reef (HI-06)?
Based on several surveys of munitions at Ordnance Reef, Sea Disposal Site Hawai’i 6 (HI-06), approximately 18,000 munitions, including small arms ammunition (.50 Caliber and below), medium to large caliber and other munitions are present at the site. About 10,000 of the munitions present are small arms ammunition. Mapping of the extent of the disposal area was completed to a depth of about 300 feet. The majority of munitions are at depths in excess of 80 feet. The munitions were identified as discarded military munitions (DMM) meaning that they are either incomplete rounds or have not been through the arming sequence. Many of the munitions are heavily encrusted with coral and could not be removed from the seafloor.
Q2. What risk do the munitions pose?
Given their depth and condition the risks, if any, posed by these munitions to the general public are considered minimal. This remains true for recreational divers as long as the divers do not disturb or handle the munitions. If divers come across these munitions, they should follow the 3Rs of Explosives Safety (Recognize, Retreat and Report).
Sampling conducted in the munitions area, surrounding areas and control sites suggest that little contamination from munitions constituents, such as metals and chemicals that make up a munition’s fill, has occurred at Ordnance Reef, Sea Disposal Site Hawai’i 6 (HI-06). Chemical analysis of seawater indicates no unusual characteristics in the biochemistry. Additionally, explosive-related compounds have not been found in seawater samples, semi-volatile organic compounds were not found in seawater samples, and the low levels of explosive-related compounds detected in sediments was determined not to pose significant human health concerns.
Metals were detected at similar levels in all biota from all strata. Notable exceptions to this finding were copper and zinc, which were considerably enriched in seaweed collected in the discarded military munitions (DMM) stratum. The concentrations of compounds of potential ecological concern in fish samples did not exceed critical tissue level for fish when such values were available. The risk associated with consumption of seafood from the DMM stratum was similar to those of other strata (areas not impacted by the munitions) within Ordnance Reef (HI-06) except for the “high-end” consumer, with the assumption that the “high-end” consumer eats seafood collected almost exclusively from the DMM stratum, which is extremely unlikely.
Q3. Does it make sense to leave the munitions in place?
During the technology demonstration, the Army determined that coral encrustations had firmly cemented many of the munitions to the sea floor. Attempts to recover these munitions with a robot, which had over 350 pounds of lift, were unsuccessful due to the coral encrustation. After an explosives safety evaluation, the Department of Defense Explosives Safety Board (DDESB) determined that the safest approach to munitions underwater was to leave them in place. The exception is if a munition was determined to pose an immediate hazard to the public. Among other reasons, the DDESB believed munitions underwater pose little risk if not disturbed, and their removal places workers and the public at risk during and after removal. The DDESB believed that implementation of an explosives safety education program, like the 3Rs (Recognize, Retreat, Report) would protect the public the explosive hazards associated with the munitions present. Separately, the Department of Defense (DoD) believes the removal of munitions would cause more damage to the marine environment than leaving them in place. In many cases, these munitions have become habitat for marine life, including serving as an anchor for corals.
Q4. Why are there munitions in the ocean?
Sea disposal of excess, unserviceable and obsolete munitions was an accepted international practice up until the 1970s. The Department of Defense (DoD) followed this international practice. DoD discontinued the practice in 1970, and Congress effectively prohibited it in 1972, with the passage of the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act.
Q5. Are the munitions dangerous?
As long as a munition is not approached, moved, touched or disturbed, it poses little, if any, risk to the public. However, should you encounter or suspect you have encountered a munition, consider it dangerous, and follow the 3Rs of Explosives Safety (Recognize, Retreat, Report). (Recognize–when you have encountered a munition and that munitions are dangerous, Retreat–do not approach, touch, move or disturb it, Report–call 911.)
Q6. What is being done to mitigate the danger?
The Department of Defense (DoD) surveyed the area to determine whether the munitions present posed an immediate hazard to the public. As a result and after coordination with the DoD Explosives Safety Board, DoD determined that unless disturbed the munitions did not pose an explosive hazard to the public. To help the affected communities understand and avoid the explosives hazards associated with munitions the U.S. Army implemented for the affected the communities a 3Rs Explosives Safety (Recognize, Retreat, Report) Education Program. This Program is used throughout the United States to provide people information about the potential risks associated with munitions, whether encountered on land or in the water, and the actions to take should they encounter or suspect they have encountered a munition.
DoD also funded the University of Hawai’i to conduct studies at Ordnance Reef (DoD sea disposal site Hawaii 06) to evaluate the potential risks and hazards posed to human health and the marine environment. The risk associated with consumption of seafood from Ordnance Reef (HI-06) is similar to other areas. The exception would be if individuals consume much more seafood than the average Hawaiian and the seafood consumed only comes from Ordnance Reef (HI-06). This “high-end” consumer scenario is likely impossible because it assumes a level of harvest from the area that is unlikely to be sustainable. This scenario was chosen to assess the worst-case scenario for seafood consumption along the Wai’anae coast. Even under such a consumption habit, however, it is highly likely that the benefits of consuming seafood (as opposed to a high fat content diet, for example) far outweigh the risk associated with the consumption of seafood from the Ordnance Reef (HI-06).
Q7. Are there chemical munitions at Ordnance Reef?
There is no indication that chemical munitions are present at either Ordnance Reef (HI-06) or other shallow water sites in Hawai’i.