No armistice for chemical weapons

TIME BOMB: dangerous chemicals washed ashore.

Tens of thousands of Greeks recently protested against their waters being used as a convenient dumping ground for Syria’s chemical weapons.


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One can hardly blame them for rejecting the United States-led decommissioning plan. It could be a case of too little too late.

Most will be familiar with the Palomares incident in 1966 that involved a US Air Force B-52 bomber and airborne tanker.

The collision resulted in its deadly cargo of H-bombs plummeting to earth.  The area affected was covered in fine radioactive dust.

Today vast areas of affected land is still off limits. The US never did cough up to pay for the ongoing clean-up.

There is no time limit to the effects of chemical weapons. After World War ll tens of thousands of tonnes of chemical weapons were dumped in seas around Europe.

The largest concentration dumped in the Mediterranean was near the Italian city of Bari. So far this has resulted in 232 accidents. Such was the rush to be rid of these ticking time-bombs that records of where they were dumped are incomplete.

The Allies dumped at least 40,000 tonnes in the Baltic Sea. At least 13,000 tonnes contain poisonous substances. A sixth of this amount would be sufficient to kill all life in the Baltic for a hundred years.

Mustard gas, chloropicrin, phosgene, diphosgene and arsenic compounds are packed in cases and drums that rust and are now leaking.

Russian scientist, Aleksander Korotenko, predicts 16% is sufficient to wipe out all life in the Baltic.

The leakage is not sudden; it occurs over time as containers corrode and the effects are uncertain.

What action do fishermen take if they net a lump of mustard gas? Mustard gas turns into a sticky mass that can drift around in the sea for years.

Twenty-four serious accidents have occurred on Polish beaches or when fishermen discovered mustard gas in their nets.

It is impossible to locate the jettisoned containers. It is futile to do so as recovery attempts would aggravate the deterioration of the containers condition.

The danger is concentrating the minds of those engaged in laying Russia’s Northstream gas pipeline running along the Baltic seabed from Russia to Germany. 

Jacek Beldowski, coordinator of Chemsea (Chemical Munitions Search & Assess project), says:  “The seabed is increasingly disturbed by construction projects: cables, wind farms and pipelines.

Therefore procedures must be rapidly established for excavating, constructing and drilling in risk zones.”

There are 31 places in the North Sea and the adjacent Atlantic Ocean where chemical weapons are corroding.

In addition, there are 120 dumping grounds for conventional weapons known to contain heavy metals and other hazardous substances, 64 of which are off the French coast.

In the Skagerrak, between Denmark and Norway, the Allies sunk at least 45 ships carrying chemical weaponry.

Between Ireland and Scotland, a million tonnes of ammunition were dumped, a proportion of which were chemical weapons.


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