Read the full story (from 2016) in Smithsonian Magazine.
Experts estimate that 1 million metric tons of chemical weapons lie on the ocean floor—from Italy’s Bari harbor, where 230 sulfur mustard exposure cases have been reported since 1946, to the U.S.’s East Coast, where sulfur mustard bombs have shown up three times in the past 12 years in Delaware, likely brought in with loads of shellfish. “It’s a global problem. It’s not regional, and it’s not isolated,” says Terrance Long, chair of the International Dialogue on Underwater Munitions (IDUM), a Dutch foundation based in the Hague, Netherlands.
Today, scientists are looking for signs of environmental damage, as the bombs rust away on the seafloor and potentially leak their deadly payloads. And as the world’s fishing vessels trawl for deep-diving cod and corporations drill for oil and gas beneath the ocean floor and install wind turbines on the surface, the scientific quest to locate and deal with these chemical weapons has become a race against the clock.