The hidden environmental consequences of WW1

Nov 2010
1,254
Bordeaux
#1
Just thought I'd share this as I've recently discovered the extent of the problem.

After WW1, huge stocks of unused grenades, bullets, and artillery shells were either discarded or destroyed on the spot by the military authorities of all belligerents.
As a consequence, vast areas of northern France are still contaminated to this day by the chemicals and unexploded shells rusting on or in the ground.
Of the billion artillery shells fired throughout the conflict, it is estimated that about 100 million did not explode.
Farmers in northern France regularly find fragments of shrapnel, bones, bullets and whole unexploded grenades and shells lying in the ground up to 1.5 metres deep.
It is also estimated that the Germans left thousands of grenades and shells in underground caches or bunkers all along the battlefields, with only a few identified to this day and many unaccessible due their entrance being hidden by vegetation.

Concerning the planned destruction of shells on the spot (called "Pétardages" in French), a study found that during these destructions, very often, 50% and even up to 80% of the contents of the blown-up shells would be expelled from the hole without being completely blasted or burned, including chemicals or explosive matter, having a life-span of over 100 years. The subsequent pollution of soils and groundwater tables has yet to be officially acknowledged by French military authorities, although many "pétardage" sites are well-known.
In many northern French villages, local authorities regularly issue tap-water consumption bans, due to pollution by perchlorate, mercury, lead, arsenic and heavy metals.
In the forests around Verdun or the Chemin des Dâmes, large patches of land are technically dead, not even grass manages to grow back.

According to statistics compiled by investigative journalists, some illnesses directly linked to the presence of heavy metals in the soil, such as the Chron disease have a far higher occurrance in the population living in the areas of former battlefields even today.
There is also a lake near a small village filled with crates containing 4 million grenades and several tonnes of shells.
In some places such as woodlands, thousands of mustard-gas shells are stored on the ground. In one place, 85,000 155mm mustard-gas shells are lying on the ground, protected by wire-fencing.
The French government has had a special factory built for the specific destruction of gas shells in 2016. In Germany, such facilities were built in the late 1990's.
Before 2016, unexploded gas shells were stored in old nuclear missile storage bunkers.
Specialised Bomb squads in France collect around 500 tonnes of unexploded munitions every year, mostly dating from WW1.

This war may be over, but its consequences are still with us, and sometimes in ways we do not expect or realise...
 
Last edited:

Belgarion

Ad Honorem
Jul 2011
6,570
Australia
#3
Yes. Turning up unexploded ordinance is an occupational hazard in farming or construction in northern France and Belgium, along with the contamination of the soil. There was an interesting display about the ongoing clean up process in a museum in, I think, Ypres.
 
Nov 2010
1,254
Bordeaux
#4
Yes. Turning up unexploded ordinance is an occupational hazard in farming or construction in northern France and Belgium, along with the contamination of the soil. There was an interesting display about the ongoing clean up process in a museum in, I think, Ypres.
I wonder what it was saying.

About the lake I mentioned in my OP, a one-week clean up takes place every year since the late 1990's.
One calculation estimates that, at the current pace, total cleanup should take up to 2,700 years ....
 

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