Chemical Weapons Pollute European Seas


A new form of chemical pollution is putting the seas around Europe in grave danger. Thousands of tons of chemical weapons that have been dumped into the Baltic and North Sea are becoming an increasing threat.

On the floor of the Baltic Sea environmentalists fear that there are thousands of tons of chemical weapons dating back to World War II. Even if only a small part of these chemicals leak into the sea it would be enough to destroy all life in the Baltic region for hundreds of years. A Russian scientist working on the protection of oceans and seas predicts that in the next 50 years at least some of the barrels containing chemicals will corrode and allow poisonous chemicals to escape.



Other scientists do not see such a dramatic situation. They say that when chemicals get into contact with sea water they will become less hazardous.

Some of the chemical weapons, like mustard gas, do not escape into the sea in gaseous form but turn into a sticky substance when they get into contact with water. Such chemicals can float around in the seas for years. In the past, fishermen have found lumps of mustard gas in their nets.

Neighboring North Sea countries have been working together to fight the danger. They claim that there are over 30 areas in the North Sea and the nearby Atlantic Ocean where chemical weapons may have been dumped. In addition, dozens of ships were sunk around Europe’s coastal areas during World War II. They carried ammunition and chemical weapons.

One of the largest chemical weapon dumps is located near the Belgian coast. After World War I ammunition and chemicals were loaded onto boats and dumped near the coast. Although most of them have been buried under the top layer of sediments the Belgian government has been observing the area very carefully.



Human activities in the seas surrounding Europe have made accidents more probable. The construction of gas and oil pipelines in European waters poses a serious problem. Underwater accidents can set off bombs or expose chemicals. Work on oil and gas platforms may also lead to the damage of chemical containers. Hundreds of fishermen in northern and western Europe have been injured in the last decades by accidentally setting off weapons that they had brought to the surface.




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  • although = while
  • ammunition = bullets and shells that are fired from guns, cannons etc
  • barrel = a large round container that is flat at the top and at the bottom
  • bury = put into the ground
  • claim = to say that something is true
  • coast = where the sea meets land
  • container = large metal box where you keep things in
  • corrode = to be destroyed by water and chemicals
  • date back = go back to; the time when something started
  • decade = ten years
  • destroy = kill
  • dump = put, unload
  • environmentalist = person who is worried about nature and the world around us
  • escape = get out
  • expose = set free
  • float = swim on top of
  • gaseous = the form of gas
  • government = the people who rule a country
  • grave = serious
  • hazardous = dangerous
  • human = by people
  • in addition = also
  • increasing = growing
  • injure = hurt
  • layer = cover
  • leak = escape
  • load = put, place
  • located = situated, to be found
  • lump = block
  • mustard gas = poisonous gas that burns the skin, first used in World War I
  • poisonous = very dangerous
  • pollution = when air, water etc.. gets too dirty to use
  • pose = create, cause
  • predict = forecast, foresee
  • probably = likely
  • protection = defense, save
  • scientist = a person who is trained in science and works in a laboratory
  • sediment = sand and other material that is heavier than water and moves down to the bottom of the sea
  • serious = very dangerous
  • set off = to make something explode
  • sticky = something that sticks
  • substance = material
  • surface = the top layer of water
  • surrounding = around
  • threat = danger
  • weapon = something that you use to fight with, like a gun, knife or a bomb