Hazardous materials, possibly mustard gas weapons left over from World War II as well as asbestos, have been found on Horn Island in Gulf Islands National Seashore, leading the National Park Service to close part of the island to the public for the immediate future.
Park officials, who planned Monday to hold a press briefing on the matter, instituted a 1,000-foot closure around an area along the northwestern shore of the island, which is located just off the Mississippi coast, late last week. A military facility was located there during World War II, according to the Park Service.
"We received confirmation Thursday that there are asbestos materials on the ground on the northwestern shore of the island in an area that contains the remains of a military facility that was active in the 1940s," Superintendent Dan Brown said in a release. "A preliminary test also indicated the possible presence of a chemical agent known commonly as mustard gas. We are still awaiting confirmation of that."
The superintendent also announced that, "based on an initial records search that was done, we have reason to believe that some containers of mustard gas may have been deposited in the island's Big Lagoon. We are therefore closing the portion of the lagoon that we own and we are notifying the owners of those nearby privately-owned tracts of the potential hazard."
In his statement last week, the superintendent said a team of experts was being called in to help the Park Service assess the possible dangers surrounding the materials.
Although the National Park Service acquired the island in 1971, the matter of hazardous materials that might have been stored there when the military used the island during World War II didn't come up until this past June, when British Petroleum asked the Park Service to provide a list of potential chemical and biological hazards on Horn Island before the company deployed their cleanup crews team as part of the Deepwater Horizon response.
The NPS contracted with the environmental services firm Barksdale & Associates to conduct a preliminary site assessment and inspection, including tests for multiple contaminants. This led to the discovery of the contaminants.
The list of other potential contaminants came from an initial review of the site's historical records and includes: botulinum toxin, ricin, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pesticides, polychlorina ted biphenyls (PCB), dioxins and furans, as well as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) metals (silver, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and selenium).