News Tribune reports explosives found in barrels pulled from Lake Superior

The Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa says it found still-active explosives in barrels of military waste retrieved this summer from Lake Superior.

The Duluth News Tribune published the report about the barrels in its Saturday edition.

The information was included in a preliminary report released Friday on the band’s effort to find, raise and test the contents of barrels that were dumped in Lake Superior a half-century ago. The report confirms the band raised 25 barrels, far short of the 70 the project had called for. And while there were active explosives in the barrels, the band said there was nothing considered an immediate human health or environmental concern.

The News Tribune  reported that 25 barrels were recovered between July 30 and Aug. 13, the band said Friday, and included either parts from cluster bombs or a composite of incinerated metal, which is exactly what was found during the last search-and-recovery in the 1990s.

“Preliminary data results show no immediate cause for concern regarding the safety of water and fish consumption,” the band noted Friday.

But this time, the band said in the report, they also found still-active explosives in the small devices called “ejection cup assemblies” apparently used as part of the technology to spread the small, grenade-like cluster bombs apart in mid-air as they fell to the ground.

Explosives experts on board conducted tests in the ejection cup assemblies and identified an active ejection charge composed of M5 propellant. Each of 22 barrels contained between 600 and 700 ejection cup assemblies, the report notes.

The report said the band’s contractor, Duluth-based EMR, “faced several challenges upon the discovery of and accumulation of several thousand active ejection charges. The primary concern was the safety of the team combined with the logistical concerns regarding the transport and disposal of explosive materials.”

After handling 25 barrels, Red Cliff and EMR officials, in consultation with federal agencies, made the decision to stop the recovery to reserve a portion of the project budget to transport and dispose of the ejection cup assemblies. The band said all recovered materials are securely stored while regulatory compliance details are arranged.

The $3.3 million project was funded by the U.S. Defense Department as part of an ongoing effort to clean up years of military dumps and other messes left on Indian lands nationwide.

Red Cliff environmental program officials declined to answer any additional questions on the report Friday.

“More information is available from the News Tribune at www.duluthnewstribune.com.