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A clam dredging operation off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004 pulled up an old artillery shell. The long-submerged, World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like substance.
Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured, one hospitalized with large, pus-filled blisters on his arm and hand. The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form.
What was long-feared by the few military officials in the know had come to pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended up on shore in the United States.
While it has long been known that some chemical weapons went into the ocean, records obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., show that the previously classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than has ever been suspected.
The Army now admits in reports never before released that it secretly dumped 64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea, along with 400,000 chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.
These weapons of mass destruction virtually ring the country, concealed off the coasts of at least 11 states: six on the East Coast, including New Jersey and Maryland, two on the Gulf Coast, and in California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few, if any, state officials have been informed of their existence.
The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined only a few of its 26 dump zones, and none in 30 years.
The Army can't say exactly where all the weapons were dumped from World War II to 1970. Army records are sketchy, missing or were destroyed.
More dump sites probably exist. The Army hasn't reviewed records from the World War I era, when ocean dumping of chemical weapons was common.
In 1944, at least 16,000 mustard-filled 100-pound bombs were unloaded off the coast of Hawaii in deep water only five miles from shore.
In 1957 the Army dumped 48 tons of Lewisite off the coast of Virginia Beach in 12,600 feet of water.
Two ships full of the most potent of all nerve gases, known as VX, were scuttled in 6,000 feet of water many miles off Atlantic City as part of Operation CHASE.