Explosives Hampered Lake Superior Barrel Study

Posted at: 03/07/2013 7:32 PM
Updated at: 03/07/2013 9:53 PM
By: Travis Dill

On Thursday, the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa said the barrels were not hazardous, but active explosives were placed back into the lake.

The announcement comes after the band recovered 25 barrels from Lake Superior last summer.

The band said initial testing shows no cause for concern regarding the consumption of water or fish in the lake.

Red Cliff Chairperson Rose Soulier said those results are a good sign.

“I feel very good about that. Of course there is some more analytical data that we have to analyze and once we're done with that I'm just hoping it's all still positive,” Soulier said.

The contents of the barrels has been a controversy for decades. The U.S. Army disposed of hundreds of barrels in the lake between 1959 and 1962. The dump sites were between Duluth and Larsmont, about 1 to 3 miles from the North Shore.

Duluth environmental firm EMR lead the recovery effort. Company leaders said each of the barrels contained hundreds of ejection cap assemblies, an explosive piece used in cluster bomb devices.

Julie Kloss Molina of EMR said a chemical test showed the explosive charges were still active, a change from previous studies on the barrels. She said that created a problem.

“We found that because of federal regulations, (Department of Transportation) regulations specifically, that we couldn't bring them to shore,” Molina said.

She said one ejection cap could significantly damage if not remove a person's hand if activated, and one activation could cause a chain reaction.

They placed the charges back at the bottom of the lake, but kept the barrels and other contents for testing.

Molina said the charges are safe in their current location, and they will be picked up this summer to be disposed of properly.

Data from the initial tests showed the barrels were not hazardous, but more analysis is ongoing.

The data will be compared to EPA regulations, which will let the band know if the barrels should be removed from Lake Superior.

Soulier said the band will have that answer by September.

“We're finally going to have those answers and that's the most important part of this whole barrel project,” Soulier said.

The band will then determine if they will request funding to remove all the barrels. The band said it has spent $3.3 million on the investigation. It has been funded by the Department of Defense and the tribe under the DOD's Native American Lands Environmental Mitigation program.