By Penny Coleman, AlterNet
September 18, 2008
On April 26, 2008, the BBC Alabama arrived in Longview, Wash., carrying 6,700 tons of Kuwaiti sand. The sand had become contaminated with depleted uranium when U.S. military vehicles and munitions caught fire at Doha Army base in Kuwait during the 1991 Gulf War. The depleted uranium was being repatriated. The sand was a gift of the Kuwaiti government.
So was the cost of repatriation. Neither government will discuss just how much the tab was.
The Longview Daily News reported that Mike Wilcox, vice president of the International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union Local 21, initially had been "concerned about the safety of longshoremen and the entire community when he heard a shipment of depleted uranium was coming into Longview."
But the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission determined that the sand contained "unimportant quantities" of radioactive material, and officials from the Department of Health would be available to test radiation levels -- just in case any of the sand spilled.
At the last minute, the Army notified port authorities that tests had revealed that the sand was also contaminated with lead -- in fact, four times more lead than the EPA's limit for hazardous materials. Transshipment was delayed for a few days awaiting a green light from the EPA.