Courtesy Red Cliff Band of Chippewa
Some of the discarded material dredged up from Lake Superior by the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa.

Red Cliff Band of Chippewa Find Live Ammo in Discarded Military Barrels

Konnie LeMay

Test results show that 22 of the 25 barrels of military waste dredged from Lake Superior last summer contain live ammunition, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa have found.

The munitions were in ejection cup assemblies, which blow cluster bombs apart as they fall. There were 600 to 700 ejection cup assemblies in each barrel, the band said in a statement on February 1. Though not terribly surprised to find the munitions—similar investigations in the 1990s yielded ejection cup assemblies whose charges were inert—“the discovery of active charges was unanticipated,” the band’s statement said.

Originally the goal was to pull up 70 barrels under the auspices of a project funded through the Department of Defense (DOD). But the discovery of active charges put a halt to that, and they stopped after 25 barrels. The analysis will continue in 2013.

Despite the jarring discovery, the Red Cliff band found the barrel contents devoid of toxins that would contaminate surrounding food supplies.

“Preliminary data results show no immediate cause for concern regarding the safety of water and fish consumption and citizens of the region should continue to follow existing guidelines for Lake Superior,” Red Cliff said.

The recovery is part of a multi-year project to sample some of the more than 1,400 barrels dumped into the lake by the U.S Army between 1959 and 1962. The tribe contracted EMR of Duluth, Minnesota, to do the recovery and oversee the testing.

The concern was whether the barrels contained toxic chemicals or radioactive materials, among other things that could harm human or environmental health. Samples were taken not only from inside the barrels but also from the sediment and water surrounding them.

But no radiation, other than the expected background amounts, were recorded, the band said.

“The primary goal is to determine if further investigation or remediation is required,” Red Cliff said.

The band obtained federal grants of more than $3 million to apply toward recovery and testing of the barrels under the DOD’s Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation program. It was part of a 1996 DOD program created to address the effects of past military operations on Indian lands, according to Melonee Montano, director of the tribe’s environmental department. 

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