12 March 2012

Alarms About Toxic Ships:

Aging Navy vessels raise pollution concerns.

New alarms are being sounded about the dangerous toxins found aboard retired Navy ships, some of which are being sunk off the U.S. coastline in training exercises.

One ship, the USS America, took roughly 500 pounds of PCBs, a banned toxic chemical, to its final sea-floor resting place, according to an Associated Press story. Closer to home, the USS Yorktown is also raising new concerns, but not for the same reasons.

The USS Yorktown sits in Charleston Harbor in early 2012. Credit Adam Crisp
The ships referenced in the AP story are sunk with missiles, torpedoes and big guns in Naval training exercises, the AP reports.  Sinking the America in this way cost about $22 million, but the vessel did not undergo toxin remediation, which would have cost $500,000 to $600,000, the AP reports.

Destroying the vessels in military excercises is cheaper, and the Navy says it's a valuable training excercise. It costs tens of millions of dollars to break up ships for recycling.

The USS Yorktown, which is on display in Charleston Harbor, on the other hand, never had any remediation before it was towed to Mount Pleasant to be the permanent focal point of Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

The Navy didn’t perform such work when the carrier was gifted to South Carolina in 1975, and now there are new questions being raised about what’s in the aging Yorktown, according to the Post and Courier.

"Consequently, the Yorktown still contains significant quantities of potentially hazardous materials," according a report quoted in the newspaper story. The assessment alone is expected to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to Patriots Point Director Mac Burdette. Remediation could be in the millions.

Patriots Point’s board recently heard about hundreds of tanks full of mystery fluids located deep within the ship’s bowels. Some of the holding tanks may be leaking, the newspaper reports.

Some substances on the Yorktown could be harmless fluids, such as water, and other tanks could contain petroleum-based fuel. Patriots Point monitors the tanks for leaks, but the museum isn’t totally sure what’s inside the ship, the paper reports.

There is apparently no danger to visitors, but Patriots Point is considering a study of the fluids as it contemplates how to best renovate the Essex-class aircraft carrier. Its operating board could vote to fund the study this month.

Another military vessel with Charleston ties, the USS Holland, also has links to dangerous chemicals and toxic pollution. The submarine tender ship, which was based in Charleston for much of its service, assisted with the town’s recovery after Hurricane Hugo.

Now it’s slated to be scrapped, but until then it’s housed at the U.S. Maritime Administration’s Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, which has been widely criticized for allowing toxic paint to pollute the waters near San Francisco.

The Obama administration has promised to speed up the disposal process for the Holland and other ships and eventually close the Suisun Bay complex.

Patriots Point board is expected to discuss the toxic chemical issues on the Yorktown at its next meeting.

Source: Mount Pleasent Patch. By Adam Crisp. 7 March 2012

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