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Poisonous gas munitions to remain off Helgoland

DPA/The Local · 11 Feb 2010, 16:13

Published: 11 Feb 2010 16:13 GMT+01:00

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Experts have decided that removing the artillery shells would be more dangerous than allowing them to remain at the bottom of the ocean, the state's Deputy Interior Minister Volker Dornquast said.

He said the shells, which are full of toxic nerve agent tabun, would likely explode from the change in pressure if they surface and suggested a fishing ban and a reduction of naval exercises in the area instead.

“It sounds paradoxical, but the grenades would be really dangerous if we tried to remove them,” he said.

The British military apparently ordered that the weapons be sunk some four kilometres south of the island in 1949. They now lie between 45 and 55 metres below the surface and contain almost 12 tonnes of tabun.

Story continues below…

Some 60 years after the end of World War II they are said to be in “problematic state,” but pose no concrete danger if they remain in the water, Dornquast said. Experts believe that most of the tabun, which is water soluble, has likely washed out of the grenades over the years, he added.

DPA/The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

17:05 February 11, 2010 by Fredfeldman
So why move them? Hell, the germans might need them again and at least this way they know where they are.
17:45 February 11, 2010 by Frenemy
yep, sounds like a plan. Let them stay down there, the corrosive sea water will rust the casings, and then all we have to deal with is a massive ecological disaster that will cause untold damage to the marine environment and cost millions to clean up (and hey, who knows? the stuff might even wash up on shore, or contaminate our seafood)!

Yep...good plan!
22:30 February 11, 2010 by ColoSlim
it depends on the materials:

shells are made of brass and lead which don't corrode even in salt water and both are rather anodic and galvanic corrosion would not occur at any noticable rate. This means one metal would not eat the other. Over time they could be entombed in silt in which case they never emit any toxin, until you go messing with it and that is when you have a catastrophe. Unless it is killing people, leave it be.

Grenades are made of steel which does corrode and would likely leak. In fact after 60 years there would be very little left of them in which case the toxins would have already leaked out and dissipated in the sea. Unless it is killing people, leave it be.

Experts say things, because people ask them.
00:09 February 12, 2010 by snorge
why not just encase them in something like concrete. There is concrete that cures underwater (- or so I saw on the Discovery Channel). Leaving them there on their own is just asking for trouble...
03:33 February 12, 2010 by Davey-jo
Even if they rust and corrode they are under so much sea water that it will dissipate. Leave them be.
05:40 February 12, 2010 by wood artist
Not that it matters to the heart of this discussion, but just for information....

snorge...all concrete will set up under water. Once wetted, the chemical reaction begins and cannot be stopped. Bridge piers and such are often poured directly through water...and the concrete doesn't much care.

On the more specific topic, if they're not causing problems, and the chemicals will not cause catastrophic results in the sea, then by all means leave them. I'm not a fan of ocean dumping, but let's not make it worse.

10:38 February 12, 2010 by dbert4
To recover them might be worth the risk, if they could then be transported to the English channel islands and resank. Or possibly the Thames river near London or, "4 kilometer south from".
17:50 February 12, 2010 by tollermann
You mean the Germans used chemical weapons?
19:38 February 12, 2010 by Celeon
@ tollerman

Nope , just stockpiled them. Lots of btw.

One of Hitler's directive's (dont remember which number it had ) said that their usage was forbidden until the allies use a chemical weapon first.

The allies had stockpiled blistering agents like mustard gas and phosgene, mostly leftovers from ww1 and had no idea about the discovery of nerve agents.

The first nerve agent was discovered in 1938 by a team of chemists led Dr. Gerhard Schrader which was trying to develop a new and more powerful kind of insecticide which interrupts nerve connections and so causes the immidate death of pests.

It was named after the scientists involved in its discovery

Gerhard (S)chrader, (A)mbros, (R)üdiger and Van der L(in)de. : Sarin

The discovery of the even more deadly nerve agents Tabun and Soman followed during ww2 which are still rated among the most toxic substances known today.
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