Beaufort made a big splash on the first Earth Day when kids flushed colored ping-pong balls down toilets, then watched them bob up in the Beaufort River.
That was disturbing, but look at the news for Earth Day 2018.
Seismic testing for potential offshore oil or gas — long opposed by Beaufort Mayor Billy Keyserling and City Council — just got dumber.
Frank Knapp Jr., president and CEO of the SC Small Business Chamber of Commerce, has been bird-dogging opposition to offshore drilling and seismic testing.
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“Government documents and firsthand accounts of munitions and radioactive waste being dumped off the Atlantic Coast from Massachusetts to Florida came to our attention only recently," Knapp said.
"Nine of the official dump sites are off the South Carolina coast."
On Friday, Knapp sent out a news release with this warning:
"There is a serious threat of seismic airgun blasting disturbing these materials, many in unofficial and unknown locations and all in deteriorated containers, and releasing them into the water. Commercial fishing, the public, local economies and even seismic ships and crews are in jeopardy.”
The government dumped tons of radioactive waste in 55-gallon drums offshore in the 1940s, '50s and '60s, according to new comments submitted by Knapp's organization to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management. The public comment period for the potential offshore drilling and seismic testing ended in August.
Knapp cites a 2009 Department of Defense report to Congress that acknowledged 33 official munition dump sites off the East Coast of the United States, including South Carolina.
"The report listed a total of over 17,000 tons of chemical agents disposed in those munitions dumps. These chemical agents included: lewisite, mustard, sarin, VX, arsenic trichloride, arsenic, phosgene, cyanogen chloride, cyanide, tabun, sulfur monochloride and other unknown agents."
Also, radioactive waste was dumped offshore in the 1940s and '50s from the nation's nuclear defense and energy programs. Knapp cites in-depth reporting done in 2013 by two newspapers, the Tampa Bay Times in Florida and The Wall Street Journal.
"The official records show 23 disposal sites from Massachusetts to Florida," Knapp writes. "Four sites are off the South Carolina coast."
Today, it is unclear where all the sites are, and it is believed the materials could easily have moved over time.
In 2016, the Department of Defense recommended leaving it alone because trying to remove it could be more dangerous.
Which raises the question of why anyone in their right minds would suggest seismic airgun blasting off these shores.
"Clearly, these drums of death, like the sea-disposed munitions, should not be disturbed for the same reasons of protecting the environment, sea life, beachgoers and others that enter the ocean and, of course, local coastal economies," Knapp writes.
In Beaufort, Mayor Keyserling was among the first to raise a stink about the federal government proposing to open the Atlantic off our coast to oil and gas drilling.
He said in Friday's news release: "Over the last couple years, people have asked me why I have been so opposed to seismic surveys off our coast. But when I now tell them about the radioactive waste and munition dumps, they are horrified and ask what they can do to help.”
Seeing ping-pong balls go straight from the toilet to the river is one thing. Radioactive waste stirred up by seismic airgun blasts is another.
Happy Earth Day.