Environmental Concerns and Provisions

Historically, chemical weapons have been disposed of by land burial, open pit burning, explosion and sea dumping. Today such disposal options are prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention. The Convention does not apply to chemical weapons that have been either dumped at sea prior to 1985 or buried prior to 1977 (Article IV, paragraph 17) as long as they remained as such. Nonetheless, the deterioration of such munitions can pose a significant environmental threat, leading to the possible contamination of land and water. Environmental concerns may require the recovery and disposal of such obsolete munitions.

Moreover, the degradation and ageing of stockpiled chemical agents and munitions, in storage for over half a century, are also a risk and a source of constant concern. Handling and transporting munitions and containers from the storage area to the destruction facility has to be conducted in compliance with the strictest safety measures to prevent any accidental release of chemical agents, which could endanger either the personnel, the civilian population or the environment.

There are also inherent risks associated with normal destruction operations, although, in most cases, they are substantially reduced by physical control safeguards (appropriate design and equipment) within the destruction facilities.

There is growing public concern on this issue regarding both the risk involved in a direct exposure, as well as the long term low level exposure to agents, disposal, and degradation products.

This will be a persistent concern until the destruction of chemical weapons is completed.

Protection of human health and preservation of the environment is one of the primary obligations for all States Parties. Under the provisions of the CWC, this obligation is cited repeatedly: Article IV, paragraph 10; Article V, paragraph 11; Article VII, paragraph 3; Verification Annex, Part II, paragraph 43; Part IV (A), paragraph 13; Part V, paragraph 33 (g) and paragraph 7 of Part VI of the Verification Annex. According to these provisions, State Partieshave to maintain the highest standards where the safety of the public and the protection of the environment are concerned during chemical weapons transportation, sampling, storage as well as during destruction operations of chemical weapons and former production facilities.

The procedure followed to fulfill these obligations must comply with national safety and environmental standards. These national standards are declared as part of the general plan for destruction submitted by the State Parties to the Technical Secretariat of the OPCW.

In addition, State Parties are required to obtain the necessary environmental permits for each chemical weapons destruction facility prior to the commencement of the facility’s operation. The verification measures of the Organisation will not aim at evaluating national standards or monitoring compliance with national standards. Monitoring compliance remains the responsibility of the State Party. However, the declaration of the national environmental standards is expected to contribute to the implementation of the obligation of the State Parties to safeguard the neighboring population, the inspection personnel and the environment during any operations involving chemical weapons.

It should also be noted that each State Party can determine how to destroy its chemical weapons, with the exception of the prohibited measures of sea dumping, land burial and open-pit burning, which are banned for ecological reasons. The selected destruction technology should minimise the risk of agent release during storage, transportation and disposal operations, as well as reducing to a minimum the public health and environmental impact from process effluents.

The destruction method adopted should achieve proper safety and environmental standards. Effluent streams resulting from all destruction technologies, whether gaseous, liquid or solid, can vary considerably in composition and quantity, depending on the destruction technology and disposal strategy used. Before being discharged into the environment, recycled, used commercially or as landfill, effluent streams will have to be treated to ensure that any remaining trace contaminants, organic or inorganic, are at acceptable levels, in compliance with national standards for release.

In order to ensure the safety of the people and protection of the environment and to verify compliance with environmental standards, effluents and solid wastes are to be monitored, sampled and analysed before their release. Standards vary considerably between individual State Parties and it is the responsibility of each State Party to consider the impact of the destruction process across the entire environmental spectrum - air, water, land, and subsequently apply the best environmental option.

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