In general, pollutions by ammunition are distinguished between chemical and conventional ammunition. Although all types of ammunition contain chemical agents, there are some fundamental differences with respect to the effects of the respective ammunition and thus their intended purpose. Whilst conventional ammunition contains explosives or incendiary agents (e.g. white phosphorus), chemical ammunition is characterized by being equipped with a chemical weapon, which purpose is not to destroy any infrastructure but the temporal or permanent incapacitation of humans, depending on the type of toxic agent. In addition, there is also a psychological effect caused by the use of chemical weapons due to the nature and often delayed appearance of injuries, such as blistering of the skin. Thus, the threat of chemical weapons to both humans and also the environment was considered more imminent in the past and huge efforts were made to delaborate especially those ordnances. However, with regard to the amount of dumped conventional ammunition, this part of the pollution needs to be considered as well.
The information on the exact amount of dumped ammunition is inconclusive. It is estimated, that up 1.8 million tons of ammunition were dumped in German marine waters. Approximately 250,000 tons of ammunition were recovered and subsequently delaborated until 1958, beginning with fishermen until the year 1952 and followed by several disposal companies. However, up to 1.6 million tons of conventional ammunition remains in German marine waters in the Baltic and especially the North Sea (circa 1.3 million tons).
Although the available information on dumped chemical ammunition is incomplete, the knowledge about the locations and amount are more comprehensive and historically verified compared to conventional ammunition. According to that, circa 170,000 tons of chemical ammunition were dumped in the North Sea (Skagerrak, German Bight, the Norwegian Sea) and between another 42,000 and 65,000 tons in the Baltic Sea (Bornholm Basin, Gotland Basin, Little Belt), with approximately 90 tons in German waters near Helgoland and 5,000 tons south of the Little Belt between Germany and Denmark in close proximity to the borders of the German exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
The dumped chemical weapons in German marine waters are artillery shells filled mostly with the chemical nerve agent tabun. Approximately 6,000 of them were dumped close to the island Helgoland, containing about 12 tons of the toxic substance. About 5,000 tons of bombs and grenades filled with either tabun or phosgene remain in the area of the Little Belt, whereas another 1,000 tons - circa 69,000 grenades - were recovered and dumped in the Bay of Biscay between 1959 and 1960. In addition, there might also be scattered occurrences of dumped ammunition along the access roads to the former German port Wolgast, where the munition was loaded onto ships to be dumped at the designated sites in the Bornholm Basin. Vague indications (e.g. historic documents) of more dump sites could not be confirmed yet.
(see: Böttcher et al., (2011): Munitionsbelastung der deutschen Meeresgewässer – Bestandsaufnahme und Empfehlungen; Bund/Länder-Messprogramm für die Meeresumwelt von Nord- und Ostsee (BLMP) im Bundesamt für Seeschifffahrt und Hydrographie (BSH) (Hrsg.); Hamburg; www.munition-im-meer.de)
Delaboration of ammunition in RoBEMM
At first, the delaboration work within the partner project RoBEMM is focused on the three most abundant ordnances, which cannot be recovered at an acceptable risk considering their current state (moored mines, bottom mines and depth charges). Similar weapons, such as the warheads of torpedoes or retaliatory weapon (V1, V2, V3) will be added at a later stage of the project.