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From: (Dr. George O. Bizzigotti)
Subject: Re: Chemical Warfare Agent Chemistry Resource
Date: 28 Mar 1997
Newsgroups: sci.chem

On Thu, 27 Mar 1997 20:21:56 GMT, (SKG) wrote:

>I wrote:
>>Mitretek Systems has placed a review of the chemistry of chemical
>>warfare agents on the World Wide Web. The url for this review is:
SKG wrote:
>This is an incredible undertaking.....check out the number of *tons*
>of incredibly toxic & explosive materials that these guys are
>(apparently fairly safely) dealing with!!

It's nice that someone noticed ;>). Please keep in mind that most of
the quantities discussed in the review are from a partial accounting
of historical ocean dumping. Consider that (1) there are almost
certainly dumping events by other nations besides those listed and (2)
ocean dumping has been illegal since the early 1970s.

Speaking purely for myself (not for my employer), the key word in
SKG's comment is "fairly." To the best of my knowledge, ocean dumping
is not responsible for any large scale ecological catastrophe, but
certain agents could cause (and likely have caused) some localized
problems on the sea floor. The biggest difficulty in evaluating the
potential for ecological damage of ocean dumping is the uncertainty in
when agents will be released from the munitions that were dumped and
the duration of those releases. The environmental fate of ocean-dumped
CW agents has some significant uncertainty in it.

In trying to get some sense of the quantities involved in the CW
issue, consider the following:

- Large quantities of CW agents were produced and used by the major
Western combatants in World War I. This was 80 years ago, in wartime;
as a result records are sketchy at best. To give but one example of
how things were forgotten, several years ago a few test CW munitions
were rediscovered, buried in Washington DC!
- All of the "major powers" maintained a CW capability between the
Wars; whatever records were maintained are now 50-75 years old.
- Stockpiles were maintained in Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany, and the
Soviet Union, all closed societies.
- Even in the US, Britain, and Canada, these programs were conducted
with some secrecy; the exact size of the US CW stockpile was only
declassified several years ago. Records of some CW materials the US
produced in the 40s and 50s and then destroyed in the 60s and 70s may
not have been preserved.
- A confounding factor is that inventories of CW MUNITIONS are often
compared or combined with inventories of CW AGENTS. CW munitions
typically range from 3 percent to almost 50 percent CW agent by
weight, so one can see how this adds to the difficulty in keeping
track of the size of the problem.
The bottom line is that no one can confidently give a figure for the
amount of CW agents that have ever been produced. Nevertheless, given
that the US and Russia have declared stockpiles in the tens of
thousands of tons, I personally believe that the all-time total is at
least several hundred thousand tons, perhaps even a million tons.


Dr. George O. Bizzigotti                 Telephone: (703) 610-2115
Fax: (703) 610-1556                      E-Mail:

From: (Dr. George O. Bizzigotti)
Subject: Re: Chemical Warfare Agent Chemistry Resource
Date: 11 Apr 1997
Newsgroups: sci.chem

On 11 Apr 1997 15:48:45 GMT, (D W H Rankin)

>There have been a number of media reports over the last year of CW's
>washed up on coastlines around Galloway (SW Scotland) and Cumbria.  This
>apparently followed years old military dumping, without proper record
>keeping or quality assessment.  Many weapons were dumped off boats
>early, and failed to reach their intended gravesite. Now, many years
>later, they are being washed up on public beaches, and injuries _have_
>  Advice, so far as I've found in local media amounts to, "oops, please
>avoid any finds and tell us about them"; I don't know of any plans to
>deal with the core problems on the sea bed, but I think discussions are
>  I have to say that I find the lack of records and action plans rather
>  Simon Bone

This sounds fairly typical for dumping events in the immediate
post-World War II era. In hindsight, I think everyone wishes that
better records of these events had been kept (or if kept, survived).
However, in fairness, I can also imagine that had I been there at that
time, with the state of scientific knowledge about the environment in
1946, with a huge pile of obsolete chemical munitions left over from a
very recent war, wanting to get out of uniform and home to my sweetie,
etc.... the impulse to take the weapons just over the horizon and dump
them as quickly as possible and not worry about the blasted paperwork
is certainly understandable. I try to keep in mind that my perception
of the danger of these weapons is probably different from someone who
has been shot at for the past six years and lived to tell about it. We
may not like the lack of proper records, but there's nothing anyone
can do about that.

Concerning plans to remedy the "core problem" on the sea bed, my
initial reaction is that the strategy of avoiding and reporting washed
up munitions as found is likely to be the best of several less than
perfect options. In order to safely remove the materials from the sea
bottom, you need to know where they are. With the lack of good records
plus the fact that many munitions were dumped loose, one would be
reduced too looking for a needle in a haystack. Furthermore, although
I have not worked out any detailed scenarios, I strongly suspect that
the environmental risks of going down and trying to recover these
munitions from the sea floor are higher than the risks from contact
with the material on the shore.

I also believe it is instructive to consider the historical record.
There have been a small but relatively steady number of exposures to
fishermen in Denmark and Japan reported in the literature, a total of
several hundred. There was one fatality in 1947 in Denmark, the rest
of the exposures have been treated, in most cases on an outpatient
basis. If the material described in this post is left undisturbed, one
would imagine that a similar pattern would result. Note that all of
these injuries are due to unhydrolyzed mustard. Trying to retrieve
unknown types of CW munitions in unknown locations on the sea floor
risks disturbing munitions containing other toxic agents (e.g., tabun,
diisopropylfluorophosphate) which pose little risk if left alone.

In this discussion, I have referred to my gut reaction and suspicions,
based on some experience in the environmental analysis of CW agent
releases. I assume that Her Majesty's government is performing an
environmental analysis somewhat along these lines using whatever
information it does have on what, when, when, and how the material was
dumped, plus specific knowledge of the area in question (if not, I'm
available ;>)  In the end though, I would not be surprised at all if
the "oops, don't touch, and call us when you find one" approach,
although not terribly comforting, turns out to be better than the


Dr. George O. Bizzigotti                 Telephone: (703) 610-2115
Mitretek Systems, Inc., MS Z310          Fax: (703) 610-1556
7525 Colshire Drive                      E-Mail:
McLean, VA 22102-7400

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