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By John Myers, Forum News Service, Published March 02 2013

Honeywell not to blame for barrels in Lake Superior, memos find

DULUTH, Minn. – The 25 barrels recovered last summer from the depths of Lake Superior were dumped there 50 years ago under orders of the U.S. Army. Inside were scrapped cluster bombs – a new weapon considered top-secret by U.S. officials who didn’t want the design to fall into enemy hands at the height of the Cold War.

But exactly who floated the idea of dumping the scrap bomb parts into Lake Superior remains unclear.

One thing for certain is that at least one Honeywell Corp. official at the time suggested pulverizing the scrap bomb parts using a $1,299 “hammermill” crusher and then recycling the leftover metal.

In hindsight, it seems like a common-sense solution that could have saved millions of dollars in search and recovery efforts and years of strife.

Cluster bombs are generally hand grenade-size explosives designed to kill people. Dropped out of an aircraft as part of a larger bomb, they separate into dozens of small bomblets covering a wide area. The bombs are controversial because they can kill noncombatants in the area. At least 77 nations have signed a treaty not to produce or use cluster bombs. The U.S. has not signed the treaty.

The bombs were made at the Twin Cities Army Ammunitions Plant by Honeywell, then based in Minneapolis, and the Army

didn’t want any recognizable bomb parts to fall into the wrong hands. The Army and Honeywell tried incinerating and then “tumbling” the bomb parts into barrels to smash them. But neither process worked fast or well, and scrap parts were stacking up in the warehouse.

A Sept. 17, 1959, Honeywell memo to Army officials said efforts to use tumbling barrels to smash the bomb parts wasn’t effective. But it suggested a new option, purchasing a so-called hammermill as the cheapest, most efficient way to render the bomb parts unrecognizable.

“The scrap that is available could all be salvaged in two weeks and with the present shortage of raw material this would be to everyone’s advantage,” wrote a B. Brooks of Honeywell.

But the Army appeared to ignore the hammermill idea, criticizing tumbling as too expensive and slow. Instead, a series of memos shows, Honeywell was ordered to dump the barrels into Lake Superior as quickly as possible.

The memos were discovered in the 1990s by Pollution Control officials investigating the history of the barrels. The barrels are back in the news because the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa pulled 25 of them out of the lake last summer in a $3.3 million project paid for by the U.S. government under a program to clean up messes left behind by the military on Indian lands.

The Red Cliff Band entered the barrel saga in 2005, when band officials said they adopted the project as a way to attract federal Indian land cleanup money to the effort. Though Red Cliff is 50 miles from the nearest known barrel dump site, the band has treaty authority to be involved in environmental and natural resource management on the lake, even in Minnesota waters where the barrels are located.

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