Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Now, For Some Exploding Driveway News

Kids in Delaware might want to think twice about dribbling a basketball in front of the hoop over the garage door:

Prepare to be shell-shocked: Ordnance experts are scrambling to defuse driveways that have the potential to explode.

The U.S. Army is investigating incidents of unexploded World War I-era munitions showing up in clamshells used as paving material for driveways and parking areas in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.

The ordnance was dredged up over the past 18 months from the ocean floor during mechanical clam harvesting operations off the New Jersey coast, in the vicinity of Atlantic City, said Robert Williams of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is conducting the investigation.

More than 300 munitions — mostly British and French-made hand grenades, but at least one 75 mm projectile containing a chemical agent — have been recovered from 18 driveways and a Delaware clam-processing plant.

Last February, a Bridgeville, Del., resident discovered 32 corroded — but live — hand grenades while spreading crushed clamshells delivered to his property. Subsequent similar discoveries triggered the investigation.

The Army Corps of Engineers is examining at least 100 driveways, Williams said.

No homeowners have been injured, but three servicemen from an explosive ordnance unit at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were hospitalized in July after detonating the projectile, which contained potentially lethal mustard gas.

Either the Army or the Navy dumped the ordnance at sea, Williams said, but the investigation's chief priority is not to determine how and why the material got there, but where it is located. The harvesting was done about 20 miles offshore.

"It's something that happened 60-70 years ago," said Williams, project director in the Corps' Baltimore district. "Right now our main focus is not who did it but where this stuff came from and where it went. We're worried about kids playing kick the ball in the driveway."

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