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Chemical Warfare Agent Sea Dumping Off Australia

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Although the disposal of material in the sea is now very restricted, historically, the disposal of unwanted waste in the ocean has been a very common practice in many parts of the world. Due to its immense size the ocean was thought to have an unlimited absorptive capacity, with any dumped waste having only a very localized effect. Moreover, the material would be well away from any human activity. Even for fishing trawlers operating in the early 1970s, a depth over 120 metres was considered as very deep water. Nowadays, however, trawlers work in depths to 1000 metres and material dumped decades before can be accidentally recovered. It is important to know where any hazardous material may lie, both to prevent human contact and to assess the possible ecological consequences. Sea dumping of unwanted Chemical Warfare Agents CWA has occurred at many sites around the world. Most of the dumping episodes occurred after the end of World War II when unused war stocks needed disposal. An estimated 300,000 tonnes of CW munitions was dumped in West European and North Atlantic waters. It appears at least 14,634 tons of Chemical Warfare munitions were dumped into Australian seas at the end of World War II by the United States Army and the defence forces of Australia. This figure probably includes the weight of the containers which housed the agent be it an artillery shell, bomb or storage vessel and hence the amount of actual chemical agent would be less than 14,634 tons. Records indicate there have been two small dumping episodes of CWA since World War 11, one in 1965 and another in 1970. Dumping can be confirmed in the seas off three states, Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria. Two main dump areas are known, one off Cape Moreton, Queensland and another off Sydney. Some of the CWA was loaded onto disused ships which were scuttled under supervision. The remainder was dumped in containers or as loose shell or bombs. Mustard gas2 was the most common type of CWA sea du7

Subject Categories:

  • Chemical, Biological and Radiological Warfare
  • Solid Wastes and Pollution and Control

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