Officials: First phase of USS Yorktown toxic waste cleanup completed

Federal, state and local leaders announced the completion of Phase 1 of the USS Yorktown Environmental Remediation project and the anticipated start of Phase 2.

The cleanup follows South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s 2022 Executive Order, which directed the South Carolina Office of Resilience to begin the process of removing over a million gallons of toxic pollutants from the USS Yorktown that are at risk of leaking into Charleston Harbor.

“There are few challenges that our state faces that are as urgent as the removal of toxic waste from the USS Yorktown – and we do not have another minute to waste,” said Governor Henry McMaster. “At any moment, we are just one severe storm away from an environmental disaster that would not only destroy Charleston Harbor’s delicate ecosystem but also greatly impair commercial shipping and tourism. That is why we must finish this project and finish it on time to continue to protect the Lowcountry.”

In 1975, the U.S. Navy donated the World War II Essex-class aircraft carrier USS Yorktown to the state of South Carolina to become a museum ship at Patriots Point in Charleston Harbor. A 2013 study by the Patriots Point Authority revealed that the USS Yorktown still contained approximately 160,000 gallons of petroleum and 1.6 million gallons of impacted polluted waters and polychlorinated biphenyl compounds that were not removed from the ship’s 428 vessel tanks/compartments by the U.S. Navy.

If these hazardous materials were to leak out of the USS Yorktown into the harbor, they would significantly damage the area’s natural resources and the harbor’s ecosystem, including nearby marshes, estuaries, barrier islands, tidal creeks, and beaches.

Phase 1 of the remediation project was conducted from August to December 2023. It included the extraction of 568,800 gallons of oily water, removing 8.88 tons of sludge and mud, disposing of 4.5 tons of asbestos waste, and 35 external hull repairs. A copy of the Phase 1 report can be found here.

Phase 2 will go before the Joint Bond Review Committee on March 20 for approval. It includes the removal of 1.2 million gallons of hydrocarbons, 15,000 gallons of fluid from non-structural compartments, removing bulk liquid from machinery room bilge compartments, and repairing and cleaning tanks.

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