UT San Diego –
In 2005, the aircraft carrier America was towed out to sea on its final voyage. Hundreds of miles off the Atlantic Coast, U.S. Navy personnel then blasted the 40-year-old warship with missiles and bombs until it sank.
The massive Kitty Hawk-class carrier — more than three football fields long — came to rest in the briny depths about 300 nautical miles southeast of Norfolk, Va.
Target practice is how the Navy gets rid of most of its old ships, an Associated Press review of Navy records for the past dozen years has found.
And they wind up at the bottom of the ocean, bringing with them amounts of toxic waste that are only estimated.
Navy documents state that among the toxic substances left onboard the America were more than 500 pounds of PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a chemical banned by the United States in 1979, in part because it is long-lasting and accumulates throughout the food chain.
Disposing of the carrier that served in the Vietnam War, Desert Shield and Desert Storm cost more than $22 million. In the past 12 years, records show the Navy has used missiles, torpedoes and large guns to sink 109 old, peeling and rusty U.S. warships off the coasts of California, Hawaii, Florida and other states.
During the same period, 64 ships were recycled at one of six approved domestic ship-breaking facilities. The Navy says target practice on military ships serves an important national security function, allowing for live-fire exercises and study of “weapons lethality.”
But since the program’s inception, the AP found the Navy has struggled to balance its military training needs with an environmentally sound way to send ships to the grave.