Jason Dearen, of the Associated Press, reports that in the past 12 years, the Navy has used missiles, torpedoes and large guns to sink 109 old U.S. warships off the coasts of California, Hawaii, Florida and other states. The program called “Sinkex” for sinking exercise, has come under fire from environmentalists for the pollutants it introduces to the sea. These warships can contain thousands of pounds of PCBs, asbestos, lead, mercury and other harmful substances in keels, insulation materials, wiring and felt gaskets.
The Navy says target practice on ships serves an important national security function, allowing for live fire exercises and the ability to study weapons’ lethality.
In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency ordered the Navy to better document toxic waste on the doomed ships and in return exempted the military from federal pollution laws.
Florida officials have barred further dumping along its coast after evidence from a Florida ship sinking site suggests these old warships can cause spikes in PCB levels in nearby fish. Florida has also filed a federal lawsuit alleging the EPA has failed to properly safeguard waters.
Concerns were raised when PCB’s were found in fish near an aircraft carrier sunk in 2006 as an artificial reef near Pensacola. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission monitored waters around the carrier and concluded that fish around the ship exceeded state and federal PCB standards.