Thousands of tonnes of waste buried in the Baltic Sea. European Union tackles the issue

Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of chemical and conventional weapons from World War II buried in the Baltic pose a threat to this sea. EU countries must undertake efforts to resolve the issue, argued the participants of a conference on this problem discussed in Brussels, Wednesday.

One of the participants of the conference organized by the European Commission on the weapons buried in European seas was Prof. Jacek Bełdowski from the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences. He told PAP that on the bottom of the Baltic Sea there is about 40 thousand tonnes of chemical weapons and even as much as 500 thousand tonnes of conventional weapons, which are also toxic. This has a negative impact on the sea’s ecosystem.

Studies of this issue in Poland are conducted by the Institute of Oceanology of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) with the support of the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection and the Ministry of Maritime Economy and Inland Navigation. So far, the expert says, three European and international projects led by the Institute have been completed.

Research supported by EU

The currently conducted Europe-wide project, Daimon, is financed by the EU. In addition to Poland, its participants include Germany, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania and Russia. “Russia is an associated partner,” explained Bełdowski.

This study is to estimate the risk the weaponry on the Baltic seabed poses to the natural environment – fish, sea animals and people. Prof. Bełdowski estimates that the threat is posed by a few percent of the weapons buried on the sea bottom.

“You cannot extract everything from the Baltic seabed but we think that only some of the weaponry is dangerous at the moment or will be dangerous in the future. The Daimon project is to identify which weapons are dangerous and must be taken care of now,” said Bełdowski.

Who will extract weaponry from Baltic seabed?

“The study, the expert explained, is to help us identify how to solve the problem. This will be a series of actions, for instance, from monitoring, as the weaponry may constitute a threat in the future, to, for example, limitation of human activity in a given region or even extraction and disposal of the weaponry[1]. The decisions will be made by authorised bodies and we will support them with our advice,” said Bełdowski and add that the research project is at its final stage.

“We have requested the Commission to extend the project. Its budget is nearly 6 million euro and within our extension request we applied for 1 million euro as well”, he adds. The expert stressed that meetings like the Wednesday’s conference in Brussels are very important to the project as they demonstrate that the EU changes its attitude to the issue. “We have waited 10 years for Europe to become interested (…) in this matter”, the professor pointed out.

Bełdowski explained that to date Europe has focused on the problem of conventional weaponry. “This came down to exploding the weapons on site. In other parts of the world there were cases where chemical weaponry was extracted from the bottoms of seas and oceans and destroyed. Japan is one of such cases, where the country completed a wide-range program to clean up its harbour waters from chemical-filled munition. There is a program conducted in China within which the Japanese, at their own cost, are extracting and destroying chemical weapons, which they dumped there during World War II”, said Prof. Bełdowski. In Europe, in 1960s Germans extracted several thousand tonnes of chemical weapons which their military had dropped in Danish waters in the Little Belt. “They extracted them, poured concrete onto them and dumped in the Atlantic. That was not disposal of weapons as we understand it in our times”, explained Bełdowski.

[1] https://portalkomunalny.pl/w-baltyku-zalegaja-setki-tys-ton-odpadow-sprawa-zajela-sie-unia-europejska-388377/

Article published in Portal Komunalny