The University of Hawaii, along with Environet, Inc. and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, is leading a scientific investigation into suspected chemical weapons that the military dumped in waters off Oahu before the practice was outlawed in 1972. The research is being conducted at a field of suspected mustard gas-filled bombs about five miles south of Pearl Harbor and 1,000 feet deep.

The first of two field programs was completed on Dec. 4, giving scientists “hundreds of physical samples . . . and tens of thousands of images,” wrote UH principal investigator Dr. Margo Edwards in an email to the Weekly.

The investigation is being done so that the Department of Defense “can make informed decisions,” but DoD has no plans to remove the 16,000 chemical weapons that may have been dumped offshore between 1933–1946 because there is no data to indicate they pose a threat, according to the Hawaii Undersea Military Munitions Assessment website, [hummaproject.com].

A second field program is planned, after which “we will compare the results [with the first program] to look for changes,” Edwards wrote.

While DoD is funding the current $3 million project, UH “is responsible for its scientific integrity,” Edwards wrote. “The report is provided to the Army (DoD) in advance of its public release so that it can review UH’s interpretations. In past efforts, DoD has pointed out some discrepancies . . . and clarified the report’s language. DoD has not modified the data or UH’s findings and recommendations,” she explained.

UH and the Army are working “collaboratively to ensure the transparency of the research process and the results,” Edwards assured. A final report is not expected before January 2015.

In the meantime, uncertainty about the location of chemical weapons, along with the presence of other military and construction debris, could sideline the state’s plan to use Pearl Harbor as a landing site for an undersea electric cable from the neighbor islands. Additional studies are expected to determine the safety of that route, as well as the feasibility of alternatives such as Kaneohe.

–Joan Conrow