Last week, authorities closed a roughly 30 acre area on Horn Island in the Gulf Islands National Seashore after finding broken tiles that contained asbestos at a former biological testing site for the U.S. Army.
Superintendent of the Gulf Islands National Seashore Dan Brown revealed that, while only one acre of the 2,700-acre island appears to be affected, officials cordoned off a full 30 acres to ensure that no visitors can reach the site and suffer possible asbestos exposure. Estimates show that the cleanup could take a number of years.
The island is a part of the Mississippi Sound. It is roughly 14 miles in length and one-half mile wide, and is commonly used for recreational boating, camping, and fishing.
The asbestos was found around old concrete foundations in a northern area of the island known as The Chimney. This part of the island functioned as a site to test biological toxins by the Department of War in 1943 and 1944.
When the area was built up as a testing site, asbestos was a very common building material and was used to strengthen concrete. The site was eventually decommissioned in 1945 after being deemed unsuitable.
The construction and dismantling of the site was carried out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers out of Mobile. A private environmental contractor hired by the National Park Service studied the pieces of ceiling or wall tiles and found signs of asbestos. Mustard gas was also found prominently on the site.
In a Pentagon report released in November 1993, Horn Island was one of three Mississippi sites where it was determined that nerve agents, mustard gas, and other chemical agents may be buried.