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Part Of Horn Island Closed Due To Hazardous Materials

Gulf Islands National Seashore

National Park News

Part of Horn Island, one of the seashore’s islands off the Mississippi coast, was closed to the public effective on Friday due to the discovery of hazardous materials.

“We received confirmation Thursday that there are asbestos materials on the ground on the northwestern shore of the island in an area that contains the remains of a military facility that was active in the 1940s,” Brown said.  “A preliminary test also indicated the possible presence of a chemical agent known commonly as mustard gas.  We are still awaiting confirmation of that.”

“Our highest priority right now is the safety of the public and our employees,” Brown said.  “We are therefore using an abundance of caution with the closure of the area surrounding the site.  Park rangers are placing area closure signage around the perimeter around the site, about 1,000 feet in all directions.”

“Additionally, based on an initial records search that was done, we have reason to believe that some containers of mustard gas may have been deposited in the island’s Big Lagoon.  We are therefore closing the portion of the lagoon that we own and we are notifying the owners of those nearby privately-owned tracts of the potential hazard.”

“There are a lot of things about this situation we still don’t know since we just received confirmation on one substance,” Brown said.  “We are assembling a team of experts from a variety of disciplines to help us with this situation, and as we continue this process we will do our best to keep the public informed about what we find out and our plans for cleanup.”

In June, British Petroleum asked the National Park Service to provide a list of potential chemical and biological hazards on Horn Island before the company deployed their cleanup crews team as part of the Deepwater Horizon response. The NPS contracted with the environmental services firm Barksdale & Associates to conduct a preliminary site assessment and inspection, including tests for multiple contaminants.  This led to the discovery of the contaminants. 

The list of other potential contaminants came from an initial review of the site’s historical records and includes botulinum toxin, ricin, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), pesticides, polychlorina ted biphenyls (PCB), dioxins and furans, as well as the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) metals (silver, arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury, lead, and selenium).

Asbestos is the name given to six naturally occurring fibrous minerals with high tensile strength, the ability to be woven, and resistance to heat and most chemicals. Because of these properties, asbestos fibers have been used in a wide range of manufactured goods, including roofing shingles, ceiling and floor tiles, paper and cement products, textiles, coatings, and friction products such as automobile clutch, brake and transmission parts. The forms of asbestos are chrysotile, crocidolite, amosite, anthophyllite, tremolite, and actinolite and the variety of asbestos found on Horn Island is chrysotile.

Exposure to asbestos increases your risk of developing lung disease. That risk is made worse by smoking. In general, the greater the exposure to asbestos, the greater the chance of developing harmful health effects. Disease symptoms may take several years to develop following exposure. Three major health effects of asbestos exposure are asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. (Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency at

The term mustard gas refers to several chemicals. Mustard gas is usually stored as a liquid and does not behave as a gas under ordinary conditions. In its most common sense, it means sulfur mustard, which is the chemical that is stored at Army facilities. Sulfur mustard was used in chemical warfare as early as World War I and as late as the Iran-Iraq War from 1980–1988. It is not used in the United States, except for laboratory testing of health effects and antidotes. Mustard gas is not found naturally in the environment. The United States is in the process of destroying all known remaining stockpiles of mustard gas.

Sulfur mustard can harm you depending on how much of the chemical you were exposed to and for how long. Sulfur mustard may make your eyes burn, your eyelids swell, your eyes to blink, and your skin to burn and blister within a few days. If you breathe it, sulfur mustard can cause coughing, bronchitis, and long-term respiratory disease. Sulfur mustard may also affect reproduction. Sulfur mustard is a known carcinogen and can cause cancer in your airways, lungs, skin, and maybe other areas of your body later in life. Some of the chemicals that are formed when sulfur mustard is burned or spilled into water can also be irritating to the skin. (Source: U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Toxicological Profile for Sulfur Mustard, September 2003)

The military facility was active during World War II and was decommissioned in the 1960s.  The National Park Service acquired the island from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1971 and it was incorporated into Gulf Islands National Seashore.


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