Toxic Remnants of War Project Launched
The Toxic Remnants of War Project will seek to catalogue and classify a range of substances that are used during conflict and which may have a long-term health impact on civilians, or result in damage to the environment. The project will also examine the indirect release of hazardous materials during warfare, through attacks on industrial sites, uncontrolled releases from military facilities or the destruction of infrastructure.
“Recent conflicts have seen civilian populations increasingly bearing the brunt of armed violence but, while the impact of explosive or indiscriminate weapons such as land mines and cluster bombs have been well documented, less is known about the toxic effects of conflict,” said ICBUW Coordinator Doug Weir. “History has shown that civilian health suffers as a result of warfare, the question is, to what extent are the materials used by the military, or released during conflict, adding to this burden?”
Substances used in offensive operations include heavy metals such as lead and depleted uranium; speciality alloys that may contain thorium or beryllium; propellants or explosives such as RDX; and obscurants such as white phosphorous. The toxic footprint from military bases may include fuels, oils, heavy metals and other hazardous wastes. Many of these are known to be toxic, but detailed information on how they interact within the environment and whether civilians are being exposed to them may be lacking. The problem is exacerbated by the limited capacity of states recovering from conflict to manage hazardous materials effectively and monitor civilian health.
Some states have begun to reduce their use of the most toxic materials in weapons, many out of concern for contamination on domestic firing ranges or to protect personnel. But there has been much less focus on the potential for civilian exposures, with the military utility of the weapons taking precedence. Yet toxics are increasingly tightly regulated in peacetime, for example in consumer goods or in efforts to control emissions during manufacturing and transport. The TRW Project will eventually examine whether peacetime health and environmental protection norms should play a stronger role in assessing the acceptability of certain materials or activities in times of war.
The project is funded by the Royal Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Developments in the project can be followed via an online research hub at www.toxicremnantsofwar.info or via Twitter @detoxconflict
Toxicremnantsofwar.info is a research orientated website that aims to consider and quantify the detrimental impact of war, military operations and munitions on the environment and human health. The site is intended to act as a resource for policy makers, humanitarian organisations and members of the public concerned with mitigating the effects of war on victims and communities. http://www.toxicremnantsofwar.info/