A military exercise involving the sinking of ships may be causing inadvertent environmental exposure to asbestos and other pollutants.
The program — known as Sinkex , short for sinking exercise — is the Navy’s performance of target practice with live missiles and bombs to destroy old Naval ships.
The problem is that some of these ships have been known to contain toxins, including asbestos, PCBs, lead and mercury, potentially leaking into the environment.
Asbestos exposure has been linked to the development of mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the lungs, in addition to lung cancer, asbestosis, and pleural plaques.
Concerns are being raised by some who fear that the government program is not considering the well-being of the environment.
Navy Sinkex Program
The Navy’s sinking exercise has gone on for decades, and many within the ranks deem this use of target practice as necessary for national security.
Sinkex allows the Navy to use live fire to study the “weapons lethality” in simulated environments.
Records from the past 12 years show that over 109 old U.S. warships were sank using missiles, torpedoes, and large guns. Many of the exercises occurred off the coasts of Florida, California, Hawaii and other states.
All of the ships that were destroyed were listed as old, peeling, rusty and no longer suitable for military use. Within the same 12-year period, at one of the six approved ship-breaking facilities, 64 ships were recycled.
According to reports from The Associated Press, the Navy retained minimal records of the hazardous substances that were aboard ships that were disposed through the Sinkex program. Because of this, the real environmental and health dangers cannot be fully understood.
In 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) required that the Navy take more steps to document waste on the ships, in exchange for exemption from federal pollution laws that deemed any dumbing in the ocean as illegal.
AP also cites new proof that warships sunk off the coast of Florida may have caused increased levels of a toxic substance known as polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB, in nearby fish.
Sinkex was paused for two years during the 1990s because critics believed that the program was out of bounds of the federal Toxic Substances Control Act’s rules of PBC releases.
Today, the program continues.
“The Sinkex program provides numerous benefits to the Navy by making target vessels available for at-sea live-fire exercises,” said Christopher Johnson, Navy spokesman.
“Each vessel is put through a rigorous cleaning process that includes the removal, to the maximum extent practicable, of all materials which may degrade the marine environment.”
The Navy and Asbestos
The relationship between the Navy and toxic materials date back decades, with an unfortunately close one with asbestos.
This naturally-occurring mineral was used for its insulation and heat-resistant properties in countless naval products including ship piping, tiling, ceiling, flooring, engines and other components.
Consequently, Navy veterans have historically represented a sizable portion of those with asbestos-related diseases. Some estimates say veterans account for as much as one-third of all mesothelioma cases.
The VA now provides certain benefits to veterans with known asbestos exposure stemming from military service.
Because the dangers of asbestos were not completely understood until the 1960s, widespread use of the substance was common.
Battleships, aircraft carriers, cruisers, submarines, destroyers, frigates, marine ships, escort carriers and other naval vessels were all known to contain asbestos.
Asbestos exposure has been limited in recent years because of reduced use.