MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) — Hundreds of thousands of gallons of hazardous materials will be removed from the USS Yorktown in a multimillion-dollar project, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster announced on Monday.

The warship was donated to the state by the U.S. Navy in 1975 to become a museum at Patriots Point in the Charleston harbor. That goal was achieved. However, when the ship was donated, toxic waste was left in the tanks of the ship.

Now, nearly 50 years later, the hazardous chemicals will be removed from the tanks.

McMaster on Monday issued Executive Order 2022-20 directing the South Carolina Office of Resilience to begin the process of removing hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic pollutants from the USS Yorktown by commissioning an updated cost study for the project. 

“As the outer hull of the USS Yorktown continues to corrode, the chance of an environmental disaster only increases with each passing year,” McMaster said. “This executive order protects Charleston Harbor and the entire Lowcountry from these hazardous materials leaking out of the USS Yorktown and into the harbor.”

The project is possible because of American Rescue Plan Act funding.

“In his 2022 Executive Budget and State of the State address, Governor McMaster called on the General Assembly to authorize the Office of Resilience to expend a portion of ARPA funds to conduct a complete remediation of these hazardous materials remaining inside the USS Yorktown. The governor signed the ARPA authorization bill into law on May 13, 2022.”

A cost study was commissioned in 2013, and the results showed it would take a $4.4 million investment to tackle the project, but it was not completed.

“In 2013, the Patriots Point Authority commissioned a study by the Shaw group to access the environmental remediation of 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.”

Office of Governor McMaster

This project is considered a priority due to the sensitive nature of the materials and the harmful environmental impacts to the Lowcountry should the chemicals leak into the harbor.

Andrew Wunderley with Charleston Waterkeeper says the impacts would be catastrophic.

“It would wreak havoc on the wildlife and also on the health of the estuary overall,” said Wunderley. “It’s important that we get that stuff removed and properly disposed of and taken care of.”

There is no set timeline for the project, but Ben Duncan, the South Carolina Office of Resiliency Chief said that once the process of the cost study is underway, it should only take a few months. After that, the clean-up effort will begin.

“Our team stands ready to begin the process of collaborating with state leaders, state agencies, and Patriots Point for the complete remediation of the contents in the USS Yorktown,” Duncan said.