CDC Develops Guidance for Fishermen when Encountering Munitions at Sea

Chemical Weapons at Sea Put Fisherman in Danger

Discarded Munitions

Before the 1970s, the U.S. Army’s Operation CHASE (acronym for “Cut Holes and Sink Em”) called for the disposal of surplus, out-of-date, unusable chemical weapons at sea. The chemical agents in these weapons are now an emerging public health problem, especially for fishing workers and seafood production facilities. Chemical weapons can be tangled in fishing nets or accidentally disturbed during commercial fishing, clamming, and dredging.

A single incident involving chemical weapons on a fishing vessel can result in serious health threats. These include injury to vessel crewmembers, contamination of the boat, and potential contamination of the seafood part of the nation’s food supply.

Five known incidents have occurred in the past 20 years where fishermen were exposed to or had direct contact with chemical munitions at sea. Vessel crew members did not know what to do, resulting in unintentional injuries and contamination.

infographic thumbnail: DoD teams respond to discoveries of chemical weapons

CDC Develops Chemical Munitions Response Kit

CDC and the interagency workgroup developed a response kit for commercial fishermen encountering chemical munitions. The kit includes the following:

CDC shared the response kit with industry and with government partners, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and state public and environmental health agencies that may provide help during the incidents.

CDC Resource Keeps Fishing Workers Safe and Healthy

Since the development of the response kit, the resource card has been the Chemical Demilitarization Program’s most popular webpage and has the most downloads. As of June 2023, it has been viewed over 19,500 times, accounting for 28.2% of the program’s website visits. The response kit and its resources have been downloaded 385 times. The kit ensures fishermen and treatment facilities know how to recognize munitions, properly handle munitions, safely put on and remove personal protective equipment, decontaminate surfaces, and recognize signs and symptoms of exposure.