Army investigating ordnance found in driveway material


Tue Feb 15, 7:47 PM ET
By Steve Goldstein, Knight Ridder Newspapers
WASHINGTON - Prepare to be shell-shocked: Ordnance experts are scrambling to defuse driveways that have the potential to explode.

The U.S. Army is investigating incidents of unexploded World War I-era munitions showing up in clamshells used as paving material for driveways and parking areas in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
The ordnance was dredged up over the past 18 months from the ocean floor during mechanical clam harvesting operations off the New Jersey coast, in the vicinity of Atlantic City, according to Robert Williams of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting the probe.
More than 300 munitions - mostly British and French-made hand grenades but at least one 75 mm projectile containing a chemical agent - have been recovered from 18 driveways and a Delaware clam-processing plant, Williams said.
Some grenades were actually found inside the clams.
Last February, a Bridgeville, Del., resident discovered 32 corroded - but live - hand grenades while spreading crushed clamshells delivered to his property. Subsequent similar discoveries triggered the investigation.
The Army Corps of Engineers is examining at least 100 driveways, Williams said.
No homeowners have been injured, but three servicemen from an explosive ordnance unit at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were hospitalized last July while detonating the projectile, which contained potentially lethal mustard gas.
Either the Army or the Navy dumped the ordnance at sea, Williams said, but the investigation's chief priority is not how and why the material got there, but where it is located. The harvesting was done about 20 miles offshore.
"It's something that happened 60-70 years ago," said Williams, project director in the Corps' Baltimore district. "Right now our main focus is not who did it but where this stuff came from and where it went.
"We're worried about kids playing kick the ball in the driveway," he said.
The investigation has already cost almost $6 million and could eventually cost more than twice that much, Williams said. A report is due in the next six weeks.
Although Williams said the Army has "accepted responsibility" for the mollusk munitions, the Navy may have transported the ordnance out to sea.
"We don't know," said Navy spokesperson Lt. Erin Bailey. "We have no records and there's no one I can ask. The Navy is prohibited by law from dumping munitions into the ocean."
Ocean dumping of munitions and other materials is illegal without a permit from the Environmental Protection Agency according to the 1972 Ocean Dumping Act.
"We don't know if such dumping was regulated before 1972," said EPA spokesman David Ryan.
The ordnance recovered thus far consists mainly of French grenades and British Mark II hand grenades that resemble small pineapples.

As to why foreign munitions were dumped by the U.S. military off the New Jersey coast, Williams said: "That's a good question. We were friends with them at the time."
The main clam processing plant in Delaware is run by Sea Watch International Ltd. In October, Sea Watch was fined $9,000 by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration for exposing their employees "to explosion, skin contact and inhalation hazards" from the harvested ordnance.
Sea Watch officials declined to comment.
Typically, Williams said, a dredging company would put the haul in a holding container aboard ship and then transfer it to a steel cage, known as a "load," to be placed on the dock. The loads are taken to a processing plant, where pressure is applied to force out the clam meat, juice and shells.
The shells are further crushed and sold to hauling companies for use in driveways and parking lots.
Locating exactly where in the ocean the questionable quahogs were dredged has proven difficult.
"These companies don't like to reveal a good fisheries location," said Williams.
Crushed clamshells are sought by poultry farmers and homeowners for driveways along the Delmarva peninsula because the material is inexpensive.