by Judith Perera and Andrei Ivanov
(IPS) MOSCOW --
wastes of the Arctic region have become the latest and greatest casualty of the once-mighty Soviet military-industrial complex.
Nuclear weapon tests were carried out for years on the island of Novaya Zemlya in the Arctic, with dire consequences for the surrounding seas.
Arctic waters became the dumping grounds for radioactive wastes, including reactors from obsolete nuclear submarines, and now high levels of arsenic also have been detected in the seas around Novaya Zemlya.
According to Lev Fedorov, president of the Chemical Safety Union, the arsenic can be traced to the dumping of large quantities of chemical weapons in the area. He said that the Soviet army scuttled at sea or buried on land large quantities of chemical weapon agents manufactured during World War II.
and Lewisite (which contains arsenic) were dumped in the 1950s and 1960s to make storage room for new-generation chemical weapons such as nerve gas.
Fedorov calculates that the Soviet Union had stockpiled more than 120,000 metric tons of chemicals by the end of the last world war, some stored in barrels and tanks, and others loaded into munitions -- bombs, artillery and mortar shells and Katyusha rockets.
"The army either buried or destroyed war stockpiles to free up storage space for the new generation of war gases," he said. "Chemical weapons were destroyed in Chapayevsk (Samara Region), Gorny (Saratov region), Kambarka (Udmurtia), Arys (Kazakhstan) and Leonidovka (Penza Region)...(and) that's far from a complete list."
They were even destroyed in Moscow, Fedorov said.
"Some Muscovites may have received a dose of poison and are perhaps being poisoned even now, by taking walks near those places where, next to some ponds behind a broken down barbed-wire fence, abandoned military equipment is rusting to this day, and empty mustard gas barrels are lying around," he added.
In December, Russian President Boris Yeltsin ordered Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov to increase efforts to attract financing to construct facilities this year to destroy the aging chemical weapons.
"Russian and foreign investments in these plants must be encouraged," Yeltsin said, and recommended government guarantees for any investments.
Russia is planning to build disposal facilities at its seven chemical storage sites, most urgently in the Saratov region and in Udmurtia, where chemical arms have been stored since 1946.
At the end of November, Gen. Stanislav Petrov, the head of the country's radiation, chemical and biological protection forces said that, despite financial difficulties, Russia was determined to meet its obligations under the international Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) to eliminate stocks of toxic agents.
Russia is required to destroy the first 400 tons of its present 44,000-ton stockpile by 2000. It stopped producing and developing new chemical weapons in 1987.
The cost of disposal is estimated at $6 billion over the next 10 to 15 years and so far not one destruction facility has been built.
The government has released only a fraction of the necessary funds, $10 million, from 1995 to 1997. Foreign financial and technical support for destruction has also been less than expected.
The United States has been the single largest donor, since 1994 providing $194 million for a facility at Saratov, which is now under construction.
An agreement has been signed with Germany and another is about to be signed with the Netherlands, while negotiations with Italy, Finland and Sweden are underway. France, Britain and Norway also declared that they too will help finance destruction facilities.
the arsenic legacy remains, and not just in the Arctic.
Fedorov said that in Chapayevsk monitoring by environmental organizations showed that old plant is contaminating nearby residential districts. Some 50 years after the manufacture of lewisite was terminated, the concentration of arsenic in all soil samples remained at 15 times the maximum permissible concentration (mpc).
Arsenic concentrations up to 8,500 times mpc were detected former manufacturing areas. Arsenic concentration in sediments of the Chapayevka River were up to 17 times mpc and in residential areas around the plant they were up to 10 times mpc.
"Young wives in Chapayevsk fall ill several times more frequently than do women in 'clean' cities," said Fedorov. "They have three times more pathological pregnancies and births, and far fewer healthy children. 'Chemical' disease among Chapayevsk's children has been termed 'pathological aging and intellectual degeneration syndrome.'"
But the official information on these matters has yet to be declassified, he points out.
"Until we make public the secret environmental and medical information on chemical weapons, it will be impossible to do anything to alleviate the consequences of our preparations for chemical warfare," Fedorov warns.
March 8, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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