The Second World War left munitions, ships, ordnance, and countless other military cast-offs around the continent. Now they’re posing a very real, present threat to the world eighty years after the war ended.
Beyond just the munitions lost at sea during the conflict itself, countries in Europe spent decades discarding unusable old munitions into the ocean. Until 1975, it was common practice to dispose of munitions in this way. Their exact locations are often unknown–and this is a major problem because the weapons are rusting.
Rust alone isn’t the threat these old weapons pose. The issues arise when things like TNT, mustard gas, and nerve agents begin seeping into the water. The ocean isn’t just a black hole that things disappear into; the chemicals inside these weapons are being released into the ocean, where they can cause harm to humans and animals alike.
Some of the highest concentrations of these munitions are in the North Sea and Baltic Sea near Germany. After the end of the war, Germany dumped upwards of a million tons of munitions. And, at the time, the simplest solution seemed to be simply tossing the explosive devices into the sea. That mistake could wind up causing major problems for the world’s oceans.
Just because humans live on dry land doesn’t mean that oceanic ecosystems aren’t important. For one thing, many people eat seafood. As chemicals seep into the water and affect sea life, the fish caught to go on dinner tables could become much less safe for human consumption.
Adding to that, the threat of people going for a swim and coming into contact with these chemicals is a real one. Even as big as oceans and seas are, there is always a chance that someone taking a dip in the water could encounter these harmful materials.
Nonprofit organizations and scientists are working to address the growing problem before it becomes irreversible. At the moment, cleanup efforts that retrieve the munitions from the seafloor could help to mitigate the damage. However, the longer these discarded bombs sit at the bottom of the ocean, the more they rust and release their dangerous payloads into the world.