Water Water Day: Water quality and link to sea-dumped chemical weapons

Today is World Water Day with the focus this year on raising the profile of water quality at the political level so that water quality considerations are made alongside those of water quantity. The focus, however, is more on drinking water but the pollution in oceans should not be overlooked. As such, Global Green USA is working on the issue of Sea-dumped Chemical Weapons, an important part of the larger problem of thousands of tons of weapons that have been dumped into the world’s oceans over the years.

Global Green’s expertise in the Chemical Weapons (CW) area is not limited to the destruction of declared stockpiles, but extends to non-declared CW, both terrestrial and marine. In their effort to rid the world of CW, wherever they may be, and also to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans, we have launched an initiative to draw attention to the dangers posed by sea-dumped munitions, and CW in particular. Since the end of WWII, underwater chemical munitions have generated a growing concern regarding threats to human and marine life. Global Green shares this concern and is therefore investigating the dumping of chemical munitions believed to cause ecological, human health, safety, as well as economic problems both to fisheries and pipeline construction.
Global Green USA is developing a series of projects to assess the hazards posed by toxic underwater conventional and chemical weapons worldwide, prioritize risks and dangers among sites by developing a comprehensive database, bring these threats to light in a series of meetings and international dialogues, and, finally, examine possible mitigation strategies. Our pilot project aims to provide a foundation for the ultimate cleanup of sea-dumped chemical weapons and could later expand to include other sea-dumped munitions, including conventional and radiological weapons. The main objectives of the pilot project will be to raise awareness in the global community and to increase transparency between governments, NGOs, research institutes, other organisations, and the general public in order to initiate further action in specific research and geographic areas.
Global Green’s first goal is to assess the dangers and facilitate the development of a global effort to clean up the munitions and improve oceanic health. We hope to contribute to marine science by measuring and monitoring the status and potential impacts of sea-dumped chemical weapons on humans and marine ecosystems through mapping, water sampling, and other techniques. This pilot project has already received support from certain state parties and we are continuing our efforts to seek funding from others, as well as foundations and NGOs, with a view to finalising the project after a roundtable discussion of experts and stakeholders to be held in Washington DC on 5 May 2010.
The background leading to our work goes back to the world wars. After World War II, many countries disposed of excess chemical munitions and whole ships by dumping them into the world’s oceans. Loose dumping led to scattering of munitions and containers of weapons. Several countries mass-dumped munitions by scuttling ships, containing chemical weapons, in open water. Although governments, NGOs, and other organisations have researched and explored sea-dumped chemical weapons, to date there has been no coordinated global effort to assess the extent of the problem and examine the feasibility of clean up. The presence of many thousands of tons of underwater chemical weapons from the Baltic to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is a global issue. All countries that participated in sea-dumping have a responsibility to assist in research and remediation efforts, but a framework for this as well as the weapons’ ultimate removal is not yet in place.
Mustard, lewisite, phosgene, and other arsenic compounds are among the top chemical agents disposed of in waters. The United States alone disposed of 64 million pounds, or over 29,000 metric tons, of chemical munitions from 1918 through August 1970, as well as over 400,000 mustard gas-filled bombs and rockets into U.S. waters. This includes areas dotting the West Coast and Pacific regions, especially Hawaii. Additionally, the United States created over thirty dumpsites off other countries’ coasts. As we think about water, let’s also remember the health our oceans, on which all life ultimately depends!

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