U.S. Navy asbestos exposure under the sea: innovative recycling or recipe for disaster?

Will a manmade reef—made from The USS Arthur W. Radford, a 563-foot naval destroyer active from 1977 to 2003—bring Navy asbestos exposure to the underwater ecosystem it is supposed to support?

Like the asbestos materials meant to protect the sailors and ships that instead gave many sailor asbestosis, mesothelioma, and other asbestos diseases, will the contaminants aboard the Radford do more harm than good?

That’s the argument going on between supporters of the artificial reef and skeptical environmentalists.

The Seattle Times reports that private contractors are preparing to sink the Radford into the Atlantic Ocean, twenty miles east of Fenwick Island, in “the latest addition to a Navy recycling program that turns outworn warships into habitats for marine life.”

Sinking naval vessels for artificial reefs is meant to create a habitat for animals, a boost in tourism by creating an unconventional reef, and way to get rid of decommissioned Navy ships. Environmentalists worry that pollutants like PCB and asbestos could affect the fish native to area, draw in fish from other places, disrupting the ecosystem, and possibly poison people who eat the fish that live in the artificial reef.

Though PCB-contaminated fish does not cause lung cancer, like asbestos can, it is a frightening prospect, and one that environmentalists like Colby Self, the green-ship recycling coordinator for the Basel Action Network, can envision all too well.

“They’re throwing debris down there and saying it’s an economic opportunity, but they’re not looking into the environmental impacts,” he said. Despite the worries of federal officials and marine biologists, the Navy still plans to sink the destroyer.

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