IPSNEWS.NET. OCTOBER 20, 2009. By Matthew Berger
WASHINGTON, Oct 20 (IPS) - On Sep. 24, a beachgoer near Swansea, Wales reported a piece of military equipment washed up on the shore. Three days later, the two members of the team that had showed up to dispose of the shell developed symptoms compatible with mustard gas – a chemical warfare agent used in the two world wars and other conflicts.
Concern over sea-dumped chemical weapons such as the mustards that washed up in Wales is growing, particularly in the Baltic Sea - the site of the dumping of 40,000 tonnes of surplus and seized chemical weapons in the years following World War II and the proposed site of the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany.
Following presentations at the U.N. last week and meetings on Capitol Hill later this week, Vaidotas Verba, Lithuania's ambassador to the Netherlands and to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, hopes to spread awareness of this sea-borne hazard and build momentum for a draft resolution to be presented at the U.N. General Assembly next fall.
"The full extent of chemical weapons dumping will never be known due to inadequate or destroyed records," Verba told a room of officials and experts at the Washington offices of the environmental non-profit Global Green USA Monday.
In addition to the Baltic, abandoned chemical weapons have been dumped in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and the North and Mediterranean seas, as well as off the coast of Australia and the Hawaiian island of Oahu, he said.
The Nord Stream project has refocused attention on this issue.
The Helsinki Commission, charged with protecting the relatively shallow and stagnant Baltic from pollution, found no major threats to marine life from abandoned chemical weapons in 1994 and determined that the best way to deal with these materials on the sea floor is to identify where they are and leave them alone.
But laying the two parallel 122-cm Nord Stream pipelines would run a strong risk of disrupting at least a few dumpsites, despite the construction company's continuing efforts to lay a route that avoids known sites and its disposal, currently underway, of unexploded ordnances in the pipeline's path.
In addition to sediment building up and burying canisters, the documenting of dumpsites is further complicated by the drifting of objects around the seafloor, Verba explained.
In a possibly analogous case, 4,500 incendiary bombs washed up along the west coast of Scotland a few days after the trench digging for a pipeline from Scotland to Ireland had begun in October 1995.
"Many people think that if it's in the water, it's out of sight, out of mind," said Rick Stauber, a retired bomb disposal technician and current disposal analyst, Monday. But the events in Wales, western Scotland and elsewhere suggest otherwise.