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REAL LIFE DOOMWATCH

In 1972 a report was commissioned by the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environement. This was believed to be the result of Doctor Kit Pedler’s scientific concerns of pollution, resource depletion and ecological mismanagement.



Below is a Selection of Newspaper stories that might have influenced DOOMWATCH stories...

200,000 TONS OF GAS DUMPED IN SEA BY BRITAIN

At the end of the Second World War, up to 200,000 tonnes of chemical weapons were dumped in the seas around the world. Britain dumped in the Baltic, the North Sea, Irish sea, and around the Channel Isles.

Chemical involved were Organophosphorus nerve agents, mustard gas, and blistering agents. Some were tossed overboard, others packed into ships which were then scuttled or blown up. These are now beginning to breach their containment. One Russian scientist believes that the containers are all at a critical stage of thinning and that rather than expecting a gradual release, there may be a catastrophic surge in release. Containers are occasionally dredged up by fishing nets, endangering the health of fishers. At lease 7 fishers have had to be hospitalised after their nets brought up mustard gas residues.

The chemicals will adversely affect the health of the marine ecosystem, concentrating as they pass up the food web.

The response of Governments and official "scientists" is - predictably - problem denial.
"There is no immediate danger" was the response of one "respected" group - which begs the question of what happens in the future if all the canisters corrode in a relatively short space of time.

They claim that the seawater will neutralise the chemicals. This is true in the case of Sarin, which breaks down in humid conditions, but is patently not the case for mustard gas. In the case of agents which contain Arsenic, even if they break down, an environmental problem persists. The Russian Academy of Science in St Petersburg found levels of arsenic up to 200 parts per million around one of the dump sites.

They also run the standard circular argument - no contamination is expected, therefore there is no need to monitor the problem.

 It is clear that the rational response to this problem involves

1. A definitive chart of areas where dumping took place - so far as is possible, given that the UK Government, true to form, destroyed their records as they were not deemed to be of further administrative use.

2. A continuing programme of monitoring of seabed sediments and fish, sampling their liver for possible toxic content.

3. Research and development of a range of retrieval and neutralisation methods.

CASD favours the option of a robot which can "sniff out" specific chemicals and travel up the concentration gradient to the point of origin.

The robot could envelop the shell in an impermeable container, or attach a radio transmitter and flotation bag to enable retrieval by support ship at the surface, or take other action.

Contaminated sediment could be chemically neutralised robotically on the seabed.

These solutions are technically feasible, but would be enormously expensive. However the alternative, letting the ecosystem deteriorate, would be more costly still in the long run. The Polluter Pays principle dictates that those responsible should pay, so a fund should be set up by the UK Ministry of Defence, with a contribution from the German chemical firms that produced the toxins in the first place.

It should be noted that political resistance to these rational measures will come not just from the Government but also from the fishing industries who would fear a collapse of public confidence in their product - the "Jaws Syndrome".

TABUN NERVE GAS

What could have been...

All of us know that poison gas was not used in the Second World War. However, evidence shows that the Germans were considering it's use in the desperate years of 1944-45. There were in fact 3 different gases, of which Tabun was the most readily available when the war ended. If one stops to think about it, these gases could have had an even worse effect than those first used in 1915, on the fields of Ypres.

The proper name for Tabun was Ethyl-dimethyl-amido-phosphoro-cyanidate. It was discovered by the German scientist Dr Gebhardt Schraeder in 1936, during his search for weed killers. What he discovered was in fact a gas ten times more lethal than Phosgene, previously thought to be the most deadly of war gases.

Instead of attacking the respitory system, as most gases of the First World War did, Tabun attacked the central nervous system, creating a situation where the victims bodily functions were no longer under the brain's control. Exposure to Tabun meant sure death in a matter of minutes.

After much difficulty, manufacture of Tabun started at a special factory in the town of Dyhernfurth, near the Oder river. Planned production was 1000 tonnes per month after mid 1942, but more difficulties arose and only 15,000 tonnes were produced before the Soviet forces captured the factory. After that, nothing was ever heard of the factory, and it was believed to have been dismantled and taken back to the Soviet Union.

All the gas in the plant was put into various munitions and shipped out before the Soviets captured the factory. After the war had ended, upwards of half a million artillery shells and over 100,000 aircraft bombs had been filled with the deadly gas. Fortunately, all these were found and destroyed by the Allies after the war.

The other gases were Sarin and Soman. Sarin was discovered in 1938 and is properly known as isopropyl methyl phosphoro-flouridate. One of the original nerve gases, it was found to be exceptionaly hard to manufacture and was thus never mass produced. Only a pilot plant existed when the war came to an end.

Soman was discovered in 1944 and was the third and last of the German nerve gases. Known to science as pinacolyl methyl phosphoro-flouridate, this gas was never taken beyond the laboratory.

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