Attrition: Dealing With the Leftovers

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October 29, 2006: When a German highway worker was killed, after a bomb left over from World War II exploded, it was just the latest casualty from World War II. In that war, thousands of bombers dropped hundreds of thousands of aerial bombs, and not all of them exploded. Many of these bombs were never located right away - and lie in wait for not just civilians, but the EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)techs as well. In 2003, two people trying to defuse a bomb in Salzburg, Austria, were killed when the bomb went off while they were disarming it.

Discovering World War II ordinance is commonplace in Germany. In North Rhine-Westphalia, as many as 600 bombs a year are found - many from Allied efforts to knock out the industrial infrastructure in the Ruhr Valley. These bombs are often found all across Europe - and will be found for decades. But it is not just bombs, but smaller objects like artillery shells, land mines, grenades, and other items have failed to detonate, and arehard to find. Allied bombers dropped over two million tons of bombs on Germany.

World War II stuff is not all that is out there. Plenty of stuff from World War I also lies in wait - and this includes chemical weapons like mustard gas (which has caused injuries after being buried for decades). In the United States, unexploded ordnance dating back the Civil War can also cause hazards. In some areas of the United States, ordnance used in live-fire training is also lying around.

Europe and America are not the only place where these problems occur. Tens of thousands of duds also exist in the Pacific. In the Solomon Islands, for instance, people in some areas still tend to stay onroads and paths which have been cleared of mines, and other World War II era explosives. This is encouraged by the fact that localwildlife stillmanages to detonate unexploded ordnance. In Hawaii, kids have uncovered hand grenades on occasion. Often what makes it worse is that in the American rush to demobilize after the end of World War II in 1945, a lot of stuff (including chemical weapons) was simply dumped or abandoned.

These bombs will continue to be found for decades after the last shot in anger has been found. The older they get, the more unstable they become, and they will eventually be disturbed and explode. The last casualty from the world wars has probably not been born yet. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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