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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

French road closed due to "leaking shell"


Chris_Baker

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I wonder how much longer these munitions will remain dangerous? There must be some period of time after which the components break down, or is there? Even uranium has a half-life.

All the best,

Gary

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Even uranium has a half-life.

Indeed it does, an an awful long one at that... But seriously, does anyone know what the 'Best before date', as it were, is of these gas shells?

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The 'Use by' date was November 1918. Unfortunately they weren't on sale or return.

Even if they could all be collected up, I expect it would be very difficult to safely dismantle them and deal with the contents without huge cost and danger to those carrying out such work.

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Some non radio active chemicals can be very stable over time, elements and true compounds if sealed will stay as they are but mixtures many well 'unmix' over a period, by definition radio active material is decaying all the time (that's what produces the radiation) but this can take a long time. Do not confuse the two. Much depends upon what the gas is made of. Chlorine is an element and therefore if sealed in a shell should never degrade, released into the atmosphere it can combine with other chemicals including water but this can create bleaches which can also be dangerous (which is one way chlorine gas kills when it gets into the lungs)

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Just to clarify, the reference to uranium was made in jest :-) But, you would think that oxidization, dampness, etc. would eventually render most of this inert at some point in time.

All the best,

Gary

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Just to clarify, the reference to uranium was made in jest :-) But, you would think that oxidization, dampness, etc. would eventually render most of this inert at some point in time.

All the best,

Gary

Yes but for oxygen or water (dampness) to get in the gas must be able to leak out. If sealed in a shell it never goes inert which is why some intact gas shells will always be dangerous. Many explosives are mixtures and will eventually separate, however this can make them more dangerous ( as dynamite for example separates into nitroglycerine and inert clays and some other explosives crystallise out into similar substances that detonate with a minor shock).

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I wonder how much longer these munitions will remain dangerous? There must be some period of time after which the components break down, or is there? Even uranium has a half-life.

All the best,

Gary

They are too dangerous to manage locally. The French have built a special plant in Champagne to neutralise them. They are dissolved in acid.

More intensive methods of farming are bringing more, rather than fewer, shells to the surface.

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As a boy I was told that St Catherine's Deep off the IOW was used as a munitions dump, now I gather they want to build some sort undersea generating set there. May give a whole new meaning to gas-turbine!

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The article contains the following passage when referring to the Houthulst:

Eighteen thousand duds from the First World War. Three hundred thousand kilos. Sufficient for the eradication of millions of people. And every day, more is added. Most of the gas shells are heavily rusted. Some have partly burst open. Dozens of shells are leaking. Those have been temporarily encased in a container.

And this newspaper article from 2013 contains this passage:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2497732/The-iron-harvest-Meet-soldiers-tasked-clearing-hundreds-tonnes-deadly-World-War-I-shells-mines-beneath-fields-Flanders.html

But the chemical weapons are handed over to a civilian contractor for destruction after they have been rendered into fluid by a freezing process. This either involves the residue being detonated in a huge vacuum chamber or being burned in furnaces equipped with numerous filters that traps and neutralizes all toxins.

I realize that the original article must be somewhat out-of-date by now but I wonder just how many gas shells are still stored by the DOVO and just where the disposal facilities are located.

Norman

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The Belgians doubled the size of their facility for dealing with gas shgells about 15 years ago, but no matter how big, each shell has to be dealt with separately, and by hand even if remotely.

They used to be dumped at sea without any treatment, but this is not now allowed and so until their turn comes they are dumped in an old fort, and stacked up.

Farmers are uttelry blasé about the shells of any sort. Charlotte at Varlet Farm had a nice pile of gas shells behind a barn and would ring up the disposal people when the area was full.

If memory serves me correctly, at a presentation by these disposal people, they said they thought they already had about a century's worth of work with the gas shells they have stored. And they are arriving faster than they can be dealt with.

And yes, these things, and ordinary ammunition does get more dangerous because more unstable, as time goes on. There may well be a time when the chemicals become so unstable they have become inert, but for the moment assume that they are unstable to the point of being very dangerous indeed. TNT is, after all, nitroglycering mixed up with other things. It become unstable when the nitro.......... starts to separate out. Ditto for other explosives, which is why lot control is one of the fundamentals of dealing with ammunition.

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And yes, these things, and ordinary ammunition does get more dangerous because more unstable, as time goes on. There may well be a time when the chemicals become so unstable they have become inert, but for the moment assume that they are unstable to the point of being very dangerous indeed. TNT is, after all, nitroglycering mixed up with other things. It become unstable when the nitro.......... starts to separate out. Ditto for other explosives, which is why lot control is one of the fundamentals of dealing with ammunition.

Unfortunately being an element Chlorine will stay Chlorine unless it is induced to have a chemical reaction with something else so left alone it will never become sufficiently unstable to cease being a poisonous gas even if one waits until 3014

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Unfortunately being an element Chlorine will stay Chlorine unless it is induced to have a chemical reaction with something else so left alone it will never become sufficiently unstable to cease being a poisonous gas even if one waits until 3014

I quite agree, that is why I said that you should always assume that these things are extremely unstable, and liable to explode.

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The RAF used to operate a centre in a remote part of Carrington Moss (near Broadheath Altrincham) for the disposal of obsolete and surplus munitions (including bombs and rockets).These had the fuses removed and were either emptied (and the explosive burnt or dissolved) or buried in deep pits out on the moss and exploded with a demolition charge (the local clay [very similar to that in Flanders] and waterlogged peat absorbed shock waves well). Great care was taken with the older munitions even after they were defused and IIRC there was only one fatality when a somewhat unfortunate and silly national service AC plonk blew himself up. My uncle, who conducted the enquiry, said he had been trying to frighten/impress his mates by messing about with a defused 100lb bomb. The last they saw of him as they threw them selves into the blast shelter was him standing laughing and hitting it with a hammer.

As said above old explosive is dangerous even when defused.

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