Munitions of war, a heavy legacy


To the west of Europe, World War focused for 4 years along a continuous line front 700 kilometers. This concentration of weapon, unique in history, has polluted the soil in a sustainable manner. "It is estimated that the number 1455.000.000 shells were fired at the front line," said Lt. Bert Van Huyse, member of  SEDEE (Abduction Service and Construction Destruction of Explosives) in Poelkapelle. "30 to 40% of them did not explode. And 4.5% of those shells are toxic, but this figure is probably higher because it is based on the statements of the English, who until late 1950, said they had not used shells toxic. »



In Belgium and France, the drainage work munitions still present on the battlefield has not stopped since the 1918 Armistice Each year, the Belgian demining services (300 people, half of deminers, distributed among the units Meerdaal, Zeebrugge and Poelkapelle) remove 200 to 250 tons of ammunition from the two world wars. The unit of Poelkapelle, in the heart of West Flanders, has become an expert in the recovery and treatment of toxic shells. Before 1972, the shells that seemed doubtful were cast in concrete and buried in the Bay of Biscay. A practice that ended the Oslo Convention in 1972. After a final emergency release, in 1980, some 27,000 shells were stored until the installation of Poelkapelle in dismantling center in 1998 and its entry into operation in 2000. Equipped with identification tools (X-rays and gamma spectrometry) and dismantling tailored to different types of shells to respect both personnel safety and environmental standards, the center of Poelkapelle is exemplified by our French neighbors ...

 

"In France, every year, demining agencies collect 500 to 800 tonnes of old ammunition," said Robin Hood. The French association released in August 2012 a new inventory discovered war waste beginning to the end of 2008 2011 in the seven regions in the north and east of France by the wars of 1870, 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 ... This inventory conducted on the basis of publications in the regional press, press releases prefectures and technical literature is not exhaustive, but the 566 discoveries recounted (each of which sometimes involves several tens of ammunition) are sufficient for Robin Hood believes that the "sum of discoveries and difficulties related to the management of old munitions reveals insufficient human, financial and technical resources" to manage this problem ... "In the northern part of France, munitions discovered by certain professions such as Farmers are so numerous and routine they are grouped into long way pending the tour deminers, says Robin Hood. Ammunition are also regularly brought in dumpsters metal waste collection, showing the lack of information towards the population. Students bring back old munitions to illustrate the History course, causing the evacuation of schools and proves that here too the information is insufficient. "But what requires the association is not only a better preventive information of the population. It also regrets the lack of adequate facilities for dismantling: "Explosive ordnance are voluntarily exploded in installations that are not subject to the regulation of Classified Installations for Environmental Protection. Chemical munitions ordnance are open in furnaces that release toxic substances into the atmosphere. Their impact on soil and their impacts on flora and fauna are not sought or considered. Munitions that are not triggered are stored for several years in the military camp Suippes in the Marne, pending the opening of a specialized factory always delayed, but prescribed by the Convention on the destruction of chemical weapons. The explosive munitions remaining buried in the ground release more polluting elements as that the casing degrades under the effect of the corrosion. »


For Henry Bélot, a retired miner, editor of Deminest, quarterly of the Eastern Lorraine deminers, it is unrealistic to think of a quick large scale clean-up: "each munition slowly degrading in the soil is a source of heavy metal pollution and other toxic. But in the current state of technology, only human activities allow the discovery of a maximum ordnance. The possibilities of magnetic detection are too limited, not to mention its cost and its slowness ... "


Yet voices raised to an overall assessment of contaminated sites is carried out so that we can at least clean up most affected. A publication in 2007 by German scientists Johannes Preuss and Tobias Bausinger, from the Gutenberg University of Mainz, made much attention at the time ... This study revealed that a site Spincourt Forest, north -is Verdun 200,000 chemical shells incinerated in 1928 have polluted the soil of intense and sustainable: those conducted by scientists in the area of 70 m black and private land diameter of vegetation, revealed highly rates high levels of arsenic, lead, and other heavy metals. The "Place à Gaz" site inherited its name from this historical episode long forgotten. Since then, the National Forestry Office closed the area and placed a sign prohibiting access. The prefect of the Meuse officially took an order prohibiting access on the 3 September 2012.

 

"A request for funding was made by the prefecture at regional level to a state study of media interpretation and analysis of possible remediation solutions to achieve a management plan," adds André Hopfner, director of the National Forestry Office of Verdun. Difficult against whether staff who regularly occupied a forest hut on the site could benefit from closer monitoring health ... "Chronic exposure to arsenic is a recognized risk factor for cancer, says Tobias Bausinger. Moreover, it is not certain that pollution has not spread beyond the marked perimeter, and has reached the water from the basement percolation ... "Tobias Bausinger believes that the case of La Place gases is not isolated. The scientist was able to isolate a comparable site in the Ypres area in the middle of a cornfield ...

 

In Belgium, a single soil pollution by waste research of the Great War was published in 2008 by the University of Ghent (UGent). "Our studies have shown that World War I was probably responsible for a regional increase concentrations of Cu, Zn and Pb, but without that we can consider these soils as contaminated as the permitted concentration thresholds as standard are not exceeded, says Professor Marc Van Meirvenne (Ghent University). The phenomenon is now recognized, but not as a threat to public health. "The study does not mention arsenic, although Professor Van Meirvenne has had contact with Tobias Bausinger and read his 2005 study published in the Bulletin of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology. "There are no plans at this time we do further studies on this subject. "Concludes Professor Van Meirvenne. At the federal level as at the regional level, nobody seems to worry about pollution that may contaminate the food grown on the former front line. Yet, Poelkapelle, some miners themselves are surprised to see, in a field bordering the military installations, back in times of plowing, the famous toxic gas cylinders used to fill shells Clark of the First World War ...

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