War and environmental impacts

War and environmental impacts

Waste Management 35 (2015) 1–2 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Waste Management journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/wasman Editoria...

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Waste Management 35 (2015) 1–2

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Waste Management journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/wasman


War and environmental impacts The preparing for and conducting of wars may produce a series of effects on the natural and human environment: these effects may be long- or short-term, immediate or delayed, local or covering extensive geographical areas, and transient; however, in many cases the effects are severe, long-lasting and irreversible. Modern war and military activities exert a powerful impact on nature and the environment. Military activities relating to the quality and quantity of weapons used, to the generation of hazardous wastes by the manufacturing industry, and the massive exploitation of natural resources, all result in different types of environmental degradation. Activities carried out in the areas of production, storage and testing of weapons result in contamination of the soil, air and water through the action of basic contaminants such as oils and metalworking fluids, chemicals used in explosives/ perchlorate, pesticides, heavy metals, metal cleaning solvents (Hynes, 2014). Further to the direct and indirect impact of wars and military preparations the legacy of previous wars and past military activity, alongside the implementation of disarmament measures, all significantly impact on the environment. The Baltic Sea probably contains the world’s largest concentration of munitions from the two World Wars where mines were the dominating naval weapons adopted. In the Baltic Sea and western sea areas around 165 000 mines were laid. Some were rendered harmless either manually or by natural causes during the war and the rest by minesweeping afterwards. Around 15–30% (50 000) are estimated to be still lying on the sea bed. Furthermore, as a consequence of the last 50 years of wars in Europe, Africa, Asia and Latin America, an estimated 70–100 million antipersonnel land mines are still deployed worldwide and another 100 million exist in stockpiles. Immediate and long-term impacts of war weapons on the environment include: soil erosion and agricultural degradation, radiation, atmospheric pollution, deforestation–defoliation, sea contamination, disruption of the infrastructure of society, etc.

Respect for the environment and adherence to the required standards of safety and the protection of the population and of the environment are therefore paramount. However, economic and security-related factors underlying the decision making of such measures can at times create tension with these standards and counteract approaches generally viewed as constituting a good practice aimed at ensuring environmental safety. Several examples of the way in which war, military activity and, ultimately, the disposal of military hardware and equipment (for example in the course of disarmament activities) affect the environment were highlighted in the round table session on ‘War and the Environment’ which concluded Crete 2014, the 4th IWWG International Conference on Industrial and Hazardous Waste Management. The topics discussed during the Round Table with the fundamental contribution of the international disarmament consultant Dr. Ralf Trapp, included: a programme for the elimination of chemical weapons (stockpiled chemical weapons as well as old, abandoned and sea-dumped chemical weapons dating back to previous wars), and more specifically the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons by the US maritime vessel Cape Ray in the Mediterranean Sea, environmental remediation requirements in the former Yugoslavia and funding problems preventing completion of these undertakings, the geographically limited impact of the burning of the Kuwaiti oil fields at the end of the Second Gulf War, and the impact of nuclear weapons development, testing and production on the distribution of radioactive contaminants into the environment. The targeting of industrial sites and chemical installations produces a multiple environmental impact as various toxic substances are released into the environment. Chemical industries, oil refineries, plastic factories and even paint shops can represent sources of toxic and highly hazardous pollutants caused by war-related damage. During the Kosovo war, a large number of chemical installations and oil refineries were targeted. The River Danube was reported to

Fig. 1. Destroyed industrial sites and pollution of the River Danube, Kosovo war 1999 (UNEP and UNCHS, 1999). http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.wasman.2014.10.007 0956-053X/Ó 2014 Published by Elsevier Ltd.


Editorial / Waste Management 35 (2015) 1–2

have been heavily contaminated immediately after the air strikes, due to the outflow of crude oil and oil products. In addition, the release of a range of hazardous substances, including EDC, PCBs and ammonia (Fig. 1) was also reported. The Gulf War and the burning of oil fields released almost half a billion tons of carbon dioxide, with smoke containing a cocktail of chemicals such as sulphur, mercury, dioxins and furans that are toxic to humans and are serious pollutants in the natural ecosystem. Additionally, depleted uranium weapons (DU), from which uranium-235, the uranium isotope present in nuclear weapons or as fuel rods for nuclear power plants, has been removed, were used during the Gulf War. DU is considered a radioactive waste, and hundreds of sites in Iraq are contaminated with nuclear radiation from the extensive use of DU shells. The production and testing of nuclear weapons (particularly intense in different countries between 1995 and 1990) has polluted vast amounts of soil and water at hundreds of nuclear weapons facilities throughout the world. Many of the substances released, including plutonium, uranium, strontium, cesium, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), mercury and cyanide, are carcinogenic and/or mutagenic and remain hazardous for thousands, some for hundreds of thousands, of years. Production facilities for nuclear weapons are heavily polluted, for example in the United States there are over 4500 contaminated Department of Energy sites. The discussion highlighted several issues that should be focused on further: (a) whether weapons systems undergoing development and production are associated with a dedicated disposal strategy to be implemented when they become obsolete or unserviceable; (b) the need for appropriate risk communication and engagement with the population potentially affected by measures such as disarmament or disposal of obsolete or surplus weapon stockpiles; (c) the responsibility of international arms control organisations (such as, in the case of chemical weapons, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons) for ensuring not merely that disarmament undertakings are strictly implemented by the countries involved, but also that the necessary safety and security standards are met and that the associated risks are properly assessed, managed, communicated and discussed with the affected populations. Demilitarization processes must ensure an appropriate control of materials at all stages, particularly the final disposal of hazardous waste streams. However, at times, strict adherence to these standards is not always possible, in view of local demilitarization capacities and national legislation, which may be less demanding. An example that drew particular attention in the discussion was the disposal of some of Syria’s chemical weapons at sea in the Mediterranean. Following the use of Sarin gas against civilian population in Ghouta, outside Damascus, in August 2013, the UN Security Council and the OPCW, based on a Russian–American framework agreement and following Syria’s accession to the Chemical Weapons Convention, set up a joint mission to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons programme. Some of the most dangerous materials (sulphur mustard and the Sarin precursor chemical DF) were disposed of by means of chemical destruction processes (hydrolysis and neutralisation) on board the US maritime vessel Cape Ray, which had been converted into a floating CW destruction

facility. The destruction operation, which was closely supervised by OPCW inspectors, has been completed successfully and without any incident or release of chemical materials into the environment. The hydrolysates have since been shipped to facilities in Finland and Germany for incineration. Removal of the chemicals from Syrian territory and the destruction operation were carefully planned, monitored and verified by the OPCW throughout. Nevertheless, this operation has posed serious issues with respect to lack of public information, transparency and engagement with the people living in the Mediterranean region. Experience gained from other disarmament operations has clearly highlighted how engagement with the affected population is essential for the success of these measures, rendering sustainable political support and providing for decision making consistent with good practice. Legal protections aimed at limiting the environmental impact of war have evolved since the Nineteenth century, based on general principles of law such as the protection of the civilian population and the principle of proportionality. In 1994 the United Nations General Assembly recommended Guidelines for Military Manuals and Instructions on the protection of the environment in times of armed conflict. A treaty law was also passed with the aim of curtailing environmental damage caused by war. In practice, unfortunately, these legal protections are often difficult to enforce. International treaties governing inter-State relations often lack enforcement mechanisms, and although individual accountability for widespread, long-term and severe environmental damage caused by disproportionate use of military force is possible under the Rome Statutes of the International Criminal Court, these legal tools are rarely applied. The issue of war and the environment should be discussed further, not merely as a theme to be dealt with in future conferences, but particularly as a subject area to be addressed under the auspices of the International Waste Working Group (IWWG). References Hynes, H.P., 2014. The ‘‘Invisible Casualty of War’’: The Environmental Destruction of U.S. Militarism. UNEP United Nations Environment Programme, UNCHS United Nations Centre for Human Settlements, 1999. The Kosovo Conflict, Consequences for the Environment and Human Settlements.

Evangelos Gidarakos

Evangelos Gidarakos is a full Professor at the School of Environmental Engineering of the Technical University of Crete and Director of the Laboratory of Toxic and Hazardous Waste Management since 2002. During the period 1980–1985 he was Scientific Associate and Program Manager in the Research Centre GKSS-Forschungszentrum Geesthacht in Germany, while during the period 1985–2001 he was Director and Vice-President of the Battelle Institute of Germany, supervising the conduction of several research activities.