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Book , Online - Google Books. Amsterdam : Dr. Chemical weapons disposal -- Baltic Sea. It was a five- to seven-kilogram chunk of what looked like yellowish clay. The crew pulled it out, handled it, and set it aside as they processed their catch. When they returned to port, they tossed it in a dockside trash can. The next day, crew members began experiencing agonizing symptoms.

All sustained serious burns and four men were eventually hospitalized with red, burning skin and blisters. The doctors alerted the authorities, and investigators took samples from the contaminated boat to identify the substance and then traced the lump to the city dump.

Dumped Chemical Weapons in the Sea; Options

They shut down the area until military experts could chemically neutralize the object—a chunk of Second World War sulfur mustard, frozen solid by the low temperatures on the seafloor and preserved by the below-zero winter temperatures onshore. Symptoms can take hours or, in rare instances, days to appear, so victims may be contaminated and not even realize they have been affected; the full extent of the chemical burn might not be clear for 24 hours or more.

The gas burned part of his index finger, and it took two months to heal—even with state-of-the-art medical care. Popiel explains that the more he read about sulfur mustard after the WLA incident, the more he began to question why it had survived so long on the ocean floor. At room temperature in the lab, sulfur mustard is a thick, syrupy liquid.


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But under controlled lab conditions, pure sulfur mustard breaks down into slightly less toxic compounds like hydrochloric acid and thiodiglycol. Bomb makers reported that sulfur mustard evaporated from the soil within a day or two during warm summer conditions. But it seemed to remain strangely stable underwater, even after the metal casing of the bombs corroded.

To gather clues, Popiel and a small group of colleagues began testing the WLA sample to identify as many of its chemical constituents as they could. The findings were very revealing. Military scientists had weaponized some stocks of sulfur mustard by adding arsenic oil and other chemicals.

The additives made it stickier, more stable, and less likely to freeze on the battlefield. All this led to something that no one had predicted. On the seafloor, sulfur mustard coagulated into lumps and was shielded by a waterproof layer of chemical byproducts. Such preservation in the deep sea had one possible upside: The coating could keep weaponized sulfur mustard stable, preventing it from contaminating the environment all at once.

After , the U. But not all governments followed suit: The Soviet military, for example, unloaded an estimated 15, tonnes of chemical weapons in the Baltic Sea, where the deepest spot is just meters down and the seafloor is less than meters deep in most places—a recipe for disaster.

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Nearly a century has passed since the first use of sulfur mustard as a chemical weapon in the First World War, but these munitions remain a threat. Click on the map icons to view details about the sites; click on the slider icon on the top left to organize the content differently. On the day I arrive in the Polish resort town of Sopot, I take a short stroll along the seaside. Venders hawk jewelry made from amber that has washed ashore on local beaches. From his cramped office on the second floor of this research center, Beldowski coordinates a team of several dozen scientists from around the Baltic and beyond, all working to figure out what tens of thousands of metric tons of chemical weapons might mean for the sea—and the people who depend on it.

With 4. On the other are advocates concerned that tens of thousands of uncharted bombs are on the verge of rusting out simultaneously. In shades of orange and black, the high-resolution image shows a two-square-kilometer patch of the Bornholm Deep, kilometers from Sopot. Scattered across the image are nine anomalies that Beldowski identifies as individual bombs.

Running his cursor over the image, Beldowski points out long, parallel scratches on the seafloor. Once the researchers locate either bombs or scuttled ships with sonar, they maneuver a remotely operated submersible fitted with a camera and sampling gear to within 50 centimeters of the decaying bombs to collect seawater and sediment.

Beldowski calls up a short video on his computer, taken from the remotely operated vehicle a few weeks earlier. It shows a ghostly black-and-white image of a wrecked tanker, resting about meters below the surface. Records suggested it was filled with conventional weapons when it was scuttled, but Beldowski says sediment samples taken from the ocean floor near the ship yielded traces of chemical agents. One of these machines is the size of a small refrigerator. It can pinpoint the presence of chemicals in parts per trillion.

Earlier research projects on Baltic water quality looked for traces of laboratory-grade sulfur mustard as well as one of the degradation products, thiodiglycol, and found next to nothing. Munitions in the sea pose a number of risks to human safety and wellbeing, environmental integrity and economic activity.

Research into the effects of conventional and chemical weapons has shown the negative impacts on marine life, which in turn has implications for human health. Over time, the degradation of shell casings and containers leads to instability in dumped munitions. Coupled with the intensification of the use of marine space for economic and social activities inevitably increases the likelihood of harm.

A coordinated transnational response could increase the efficiency and effectiveness of interventions by sharing experience and skills across Europe. Update: September Review of End-users priorities Due to the diversity and complexity of activity and stakeholders end-users priorities have been collected in order to facilitate the identification of relevant joint activities and the selection of the stakeholders to be involved. Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness of the Government of Spain.

Contact: Estrella Fernandez Garcia. Contact: Tarquin Dorrington. Contact: Ed Hill.

How worried should we be? Chemists are racing the clock to find out

Contact: Mike Webb. Contact: Chrysoula Diamanti. Contact: Caroline Bocquel. Contact: Ciaran Kelly. Contact: Thamar Kok. Contact: Bernard Westerop.