Hazardous materials at the bottom of the Baltic Sea – is there anything to fear?

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As many as 45 areas of weapons and toxic warfare agents and 639 sunken point objects – this is the alarming balance of the inventory of hazardous materials on the bottom of the Baltic Sea. They mainly date back to World War II and the decade just after. This means that they are already in a state of advanced decay and could lead to a maritime disaster.

What lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea?

On Wednesday, April 24 this year. A meeting of the Parliamentary Committee on Maritime Affairs and Inland Navigation was held, the topic of which was hazardous materials at the bottom of the Baltic Sea. Representatives of the various ministries presented the current situation and the steps being taken to neutralize the risk, which is more serious than it might seem. In recent years, some of the hazards have been removed, but most still linger on the bottom.

The NATO-funded CHEMSEA project has revealed that, as part of the disarmament of Germany and the USSR after World War II, the Baltic Sea was flooded with 50,000. tone chemical munitions. Of this, 15 thousand. tons make up warfare poisoning agents such as sulfur iperite, phosgene and Zyklon B, as well as arsenic-containing Clark I, Clark II and adamsite. The airdrop zones designated near the Bornholm Deep, Gotland Deep and Little Belt are also expected to contain Tabun, an organophosphorus weapon of mass destruction with a paralytic and convulsive effect.

Officially, the disarmament was to end in 1948. In fact, operations continued into the 1980s, and because they were carried out clandestinely, the actual amount and type of hazardous materials at the bottom of the Baltic Sea remains a mystery. In the Gdansk Deepwater area, the warfare poisoning agents were disposed of illegally.

Munitions threat in the Baltic Sea

Back in the 1950s. Last century, Polish, Swedish, German and Danish fishermen began fishing out sunken munitions decks. In 1955. A group of more than a hundred children staying at camps in Darłówek suffered injuries as a result of playing with a barrel of iperite thrown by the sea – some of the damage to their eyesight proved irreversible. Hazardous materials at the bottom of the Baltic Sea pose a serious threat primarily to fishermen, divers, lifeguards and people working on offshore structures, which are expected to increase as the blue economy grows. It is difficult to predict what impact a spill of toxic warfare agents would have on the Baltic ecosystem, especially on fish, birds and mammals. There are also questions about the safety of fish and seafood consumption.

And the risk is significant because 70 percent of The weapons dropped into the sea were aerial bombs with very thin metal casing. Their unsealing due to corrosion is only a matter of time. Experts point out that much of Germany’s ammunition dates from the end of the war, when the quality of the Third Reich’s military production clearly deteriorated. Some bombs were also thrown in wooden transporters, allowing them to drift beyond the agreed drop zones.

Hazardous materials on the bottom of the Baltic Sea in Polish waters

At an April meeting in the Sejm, the Ministry of Defense reported on undersea threats located in Polish territorial waters. Within the Gulf of Gdansk, 18 mines have been identified from ORP “Gryf,” sunk by the Germans in 1939. Work on their disarmament is being held up by the lack of an environmental decision – as the zone of operations lies within a “Natura 2000” area. To make matters worse, these mines are in such a poor state of repair that they cannot be moved for neutralization. In some areas, therefore, evacuation of the population will be required during disarmament.

Between 2021 and 2022, the Defense Ministry has also identified nearly 100 practice torpedoes in the Gulf of Gdansk – so far only 21 have been neutralized. Further progress is being held up, among other things. by the protective period of the gray seal and harbor porpoise, which lasts from April to September. Due to the expansion of the seaports in Gdynia, Gdansk and Swinoujscie, news of new finds is practically constantly emerging. Hazardous materials on the bottom of the Baltic Sea have also been identified in connection with the project to anchor a floating gas terminal in the Gulf of Gdansk. In the course of the work, 26 objects have already been found, 13 of which have been identified as posing a threat.

Unfortunately, these are not all the hazardous materials at the bottom of the Baltic Sea – tomorrow we will tell you about thousands of sunken shipwrecks, where danger to people and the environment lurks.

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