CHEMSEA tackles problem of chemical munitions in the Baltic Sea

Some 50 000 tonnes of chemical munitions have been dumped in the Baltic Sea since the end of World War II, posing a threat to the environment. The CHEMSEA project seeks to learn more about the locations of dumping areas, the content and state of the munitions and how they react to Baltic conditions.

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Sedimentprovtagning för CHEMSEA-projektet. © CHEMSEA Sedimentprovtagning för CHEMSEA-projektet. © CHEMSEA

" The overall conclusion stemming from the CHEMSEA project is that chemical munitions dump sites, although not representing an immediate danger, will continue to be a problem for the Baltic Sea. On one hand, they represent scattered point sources of pollution of unknown magnitude and difficult to control. On the other hand, they are a major economic impairment, making the Baltic Sea a less safe and potentially more costly area for investment. "

CHEMSEA Handbook

CHEMSEA investigated official and unofficial dumping sites using hydro-acoustic detection and magnetometric surveys to find links between objects on the seabed and magnetic field disturbances, to examine currents and to sample sediment so as to characterise the natural conditions of the sites. Mapping involved categorising objects, selecting those needing further investigation and feeding coordinates of munitions and contaminated sediment into maps.

Toxicity studies aimed to investigate biological uptake of chemical warfare agents (CWA) under varying conditions. Cages were deployed where the concentration of munitions was highest before accumulation and biological effects of chemical substances in fauna were measured.

Standardised response procedures

CHEMSEA reviewed national CWA legislation and formulated guidelines for munition handling as well as hazardous waste and contaminated sediment disposal. A regional contingency plan was drawn up comprising of codes of conduct in the event of an accidental catch of chemical munitions at sea or their being washed up onshore. Models were developed for both scenarios, leading to the standardisation of national response procedures and plans.

Awareness levels of groups at risk of contact with CWA were evaluated, including fishermen and offshore workers. Training was aimed to spread knowledge of chemical munitions dumped at sea along with best practices for minimising threats.

An ongoing battle

CWA pose a threat if released, which can occur due to corrosion of the metal shells. The extent and rate of corrosion of CWA in the Baltic are unknown but depend on factors such as the material from which the munition is made, wall thickness and nature of the dumping site. Knowledge of the effects of CWA on the marine environment is also limited.

The munitions are unlikely to be washed ashore, but new technologies allow activity in deep-sea regions where dumping sites are located and mechanical disturbance could lead to leakage. About ten incidents of fishermen catching CWA are reported a year.

Total investment and EU funding

Total investment for the project “CHEMSEA” is EUR 4 500 000, of which the EU’s European Regional Development Fund is contributing EUR 3 621 910 from the Baltic Sea Region Programme for the 2007 to 2013 programming period.

Draft date