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ww1-2 pollution



Would be interesting to find out how chemically poluted some parts of Belgium and France farm land is from chemical unitions.

I know (and have seen) there are chem shells recovered all the time,but I'm interested in the pollution of the soil and water table it self.

All this rusting iron,splitting chemical shells under the surface with crops growing on the top!

surely there must be some sort of pollution ? has this affected future generations health?

Is there any evidence for it?
has any authority analylised the soil?

Sorry for naff grammer

Thought you may like to see these pictures 18pdr of contamination on a now closed artillery range somewhere in the UK,you can clearly see where the rust level is on the closer picture and if you look closely at the one with the vehicle on,,theres another exposed layer just beneath the top soil


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Great thread chaps. :)
Good question regarding the pollution.I really would have thought the Enviromental bods would have looked into it?

here's a pic of some canadian's sitting on a very active range target, a lot of active and old ranges are covered in old fragmentation.


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great pictures

ive seen areas in belgium and france where the farm land is AWASH with bits of iron.
The annual 'iron harvest' would only remove so much.
Millons and millions of lead shrapnell balls is another example of heavy metal pollution.

Thats not forgetting the 150,000 odd poor souls that are still under the soil.

I'm also amazed no one has looked at the potentialhealth risks from this,maybe it would cause too much concern that alot of the land is polluted

-the backlash could have huge implications on farmland.

seriously though,my sister lives in Belgium and I wouldnt like the idea of her family suffering health problems from this.

I know its abit alarmist but we are talking of huge areas of land saturated by poison!

hmm maybe i should shut up!!
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thanks mathias
lets get some soil test results on this thread!
very interesting mathiaus,
apart from the obvious explosive hazard there must be masses of various chemicals seeping into soil over time.
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For the CW stuff its actually pretty complicated. In general, the land (and sea) has absorbed much of the toxic material, as anticipated by our for-fathers. Where the problems lie is not particularly from the battlefields, where the items had somewhat even distribution, but from the burial (land and dump (sea) sites. In these locations you are looking at sometimes thousands to millions of munitions in a concentrated area, so your source strength is much higher.

The problem then is which type of chemical agent and which type of munition, and how it was left. Some agents break down quickly and easily in soil or water, others do not. The WWII Clark munitions were heavy in arsenic, as was Lewisite. Arsenic does not break down further, so once you have a concentration in one area it becomes a problem.

Which munition you have determines (in part) how quickly the round is broken through and the agent is released. A mixture of different munitions means different breakthrough times and a gradual release. All the same type of munitions means a similar rate of corrosion and a greater release at one time.

Likewise if the munitions were just buried/dumped, or if they were overpacked or left in ships. Whether the water is cold or warm, soil conditions, etc.

There have been many studies in areas like the Baltic (over 100K tons), but the results are never completely clear as well. Most studies are in theory mostly, ie based on types of bacteria found and attempting to state that the amount of bacteria identifies the amount of agent from an earlier period. What is clear is that much of this is about money.

Burial sites are not common, but do exist in substantial numbers. Much of the history of these sites is lost and they are only discovered when groundwater contamination is detected. At that point most countries investigate and recover.

Identifying a problem is comparatively easy. Doing something about it is extremely expensive. In the Baltic particularly, a couple countries made the stuff which is there, others dumped it, the potential and ongoing problems affect still others, who pays? For obvious reasons few are terribly interested in supporting this line of questioning. It was done in good faith at the time, to the standards of the time. Regardless, the technology isn't there to do much about it yet, with very limited underwater recovery of CW done so far and moderate land recovery.

The largest land burial site is still under investigation, recovery has not yet begun although it has been studied for the past 13 years. It has been estimated at 350,000 to 750,000 buried WWII CW.
very interesting
and of course these are dumps that are known about.

I believe in the first major offensive on the somme,in the first few days the brittish fired approx 6,000,000 shells and 30% of these were 'blinds'.

There must be a massive amount slowly disolving away,and all this has to go somewhere only so much can be washed away or degrades natually.

It would be interesting (if not far fetched) to travel to these areas across northern france and belgium and collect random water and soil samples,i believe thats the only true way to find out the impact of this pollution.
well ive trawled the net,and found a couple of VERY lengthy documented studies into soil samples taken from around Verdun France around 1995.

The samples were ground up mechanically and analysed chemically.

Vegetable samples were even cut with ceramic instruments to avoid contamination from metal intruments!

I'm not sure of the validity of the reports or their findings.

They were too detailed and very complex (I feel )to be included here,and I think they would only make you fall to sleep!!

What was found was high levels of Cadmium,Mercury,lead and other heavy metals in soil samples on the surface and in some cases 5cm below the surface.

In one report (by a French study that i cant remember the name) earth worms were less abundant in polluted areas and that heavy metals in the soil was to blame for this!

Further,heavy metals were found in root vegetables and other crops.
The reports went into great detail about the constituants of soil and the variables affecting results.
It nearly gave me a bad head reading through it!

Surfice to say,there was soil and water table pollution in the samples examined that showed significantly higher levels of heavy metals than found natually elsewhere and that their is continued testing.

It appears that the French Authorities are fully aware of the pollution from ww1 battlefields.

What doesnt appear clear is how high levels of these contaminants could affect humans.

Sorry its a bit vague,but ive had to scan through loads of pages of the stuff and thought that if i had provided a link for it,then you would have to search through loads of stuff before you found anything of any significance.(thats if you were still awake )

Anyway i'm going to bed.

18 'bad head'pounder.:tinysmile_cry_t4:
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Hello there, i know this is an old thread, and im new to the forum, but....a couple of years ago in ypres, met a group of diggers and one said he would never eat cabbages from the region due to pollutants.

Veterans said that nothing would grow ever on ww1 battlefields...
In France there are still many "red areas" banned for example near Verdun.
People live for almost a century on old battlefields and no real investigation had been made to measure the negative effects on health.
French government say that about 500 tonnes of ammuntion are collected every year !!
Actually nobody know what is still in the ground (unexeploded shells, abandoned stocks...).
The authorities have started cleaning up some lakes and rivers (abandoned shells) but the work is long and very expensive.

Az16 from France
Several years ago I saw a local TV news article about a former airfield site in Lincolnshire. The footage showed a small area in a field that had been used for CW munitions storage. I think the stocks had leaked and anything remaining had been attempted to be destroyed. No crops could grow on that site, although the contamination appeared to be very localised. I know also that many sites of heavy contamination are now designated as nature reserves. I believe that the Verdun area in France was originally forest before WW1 and is forest again now but areas such as the Somme were returned to farming. Local people had to earn a living and farming was their livelihood. In the mid 1980s I visited Verdun a number of times and in a small clearing in the forest found the remains of about 200 German stick grenades. One that I looked at carefully and in detail had tiny blobs of pure mercury on what remained of the detonator. WW2 DWS Notes on Ammunition detail disposal of leaking CW munitions as follows:

1. Deep sea dump - stated to be the most effective method.

2. (Blister or `Y' (yellow) agents) - the munitions were to be in a pit lined with one part bleach to three parts sand/earth/ashes with the munitions about one foot (30 cm) below ground level. Explosive charges to be placed on the munitions and a further three inches of bleach mix to be placed on top, then the pit to be filled in. Explosive charges were to be sufficient just to break open the munitions. This method was only allowed on government property inaccessible to the public.

An alternative method was to remove the base plug and use propellant to burn out the filling.

3. (Tear gas or `B' (black) agents) - same as 2. above but not using bleach.

4. (Choking or `G' (green) agents) - bury under about a foot of soil and allow the filling to leak.

An alternative method of disposal for Livens drums was by insertion of four thicknesses of Cordtex through the transit plug hole, sufficient to open the drum and allow the contents to escape `for destructional purposes'.

It follows that areas that were once government property inaccessible to the public may not be so decades later. The authorities today are very careful about how land is used and if a problem is known, will ensure that a site is decontaminated before being built on. The records that survive today may not be comprehensive with regard to contamination, for example in WW2 chemical `leakers' were required to be documented but only insofar as details concerning the ammunition lot and not the exact location where the leak occurred.