Rethinking the Development of Weapons and Their Impact: Conventional Weaponry May Be Effectively Harmful to Our Enemies, but Pollution from These Weapons Is Severely Impacting the Environment as Well

By Kotsioloudis, Petros J.; Jones, Mildred V. | Technology and Engineering Teacher, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Rethinking the Development of Weapons and Their Impact: Conventional Weaponry May Be Effectively Harmful to Our Enemies, but Pollution from These Weapons Is Severely Impacting the Environment as Well


Kotsioloudis, Petros J., Jones, Mildred V., Technology and Engineering Teacher


AS you read about the history of humans, you see very early on that humans are naturally tool users. More specifically, humans used tools as a means of subsistence and survival. Even today humans use tools to extend their capabilities beyond imagination. Axes and knife-like tools made from stone and flint could be used to pound or hammer or cut. ]he earliest humans were hunter-gatherers and for survival had to capture or kill "an evening meal" Spears, bows, and arrows became tools for hunting to kill larger prey for food and subsistence. However primitive, these early weapons would soon be used against other humans to defend territorial domains, to defend against other warring groups, or for protection against large predator animals.

The "inconvenient truth" we must face as a society is that weapons are necessary as we defend our country from foreign as well as domestic enemies. Whether it is a catastrophic event such as 9/11, a shooting on a college campus, or our commitments to help our allies overseas during wartime, our military and police need weapons to defend against these adversaries. However, we can also note that weapons are used for recreation as well--in hunting and shooting competitions for example. Given the enormous number of weapons used for protection or recreation, can we expect that conventional weapons are harmful to the environment? Absolutely, in many ways, and have been since the Greeks used sulfur mixtures to produce suffocating fumes in the Trojan War (431 BC) (Harigel, 2001).

Conventional weaponry may be effectively harmful to our enemies, but pollution from these weapons is severely impacting the environment as well. Some of these weapons include chemical, biological, depleted uranium, landmines, nuclear, jet fighters, and even the conventional lead bullets fired from rifles and handguns. "It is estimated that the Pentagon generates five times more toxins than the five major U.S. chemical companies combined" (Hay-Edie, 2002). The U.S. military is the "largest single source" of environmental pollution in the United States. It is estimated that the cost to clean up military-related sites costs approximately $500 billion dollars (Hay-Edie, 2002).

Chemical Weapons

Although the disposal of chemical weapons in the ocean ended in 1970, there is still concern about the potential hazards they may have on human health and safety as well as ocean life (Bearden, 2007). Following World Wars I and II the most effective and efficient way to dispose of chemical weapons was to dump them in the ocean. Between 1945 and 1970, our oceans became the dumping grounds for chemical weapons--some of which were known to be leaking and/ or damaged and posing immediate risk to those handling the weapons. The U.S. contributed 93,995 tons, France 9,250 tons, Britain 122,508 tons, and Russia 70,500 tons to the ocean floor. The United States has also dumped approximately 100,000 tons (the equivalent to 39 railroad cars) in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of New Jersey, California, Florida, South Carolina, India, Italy, Norway, Denmark, Japan, and Australia (Harigel, 2001). Specific locations of dumping are not known, making it difficult to ascertain exactly who is at risk. While some of these weapons are water soluble, others are not and can remain active for many years. Others are denser than seawater and may remain on the floor of the ocean, where they pose a greater threat. In addition, colder temperatures prevent the degradation of the chemicals (Bearden, 2007). Ocean currents can carry contamination far beyond the original site where chemicals were dumped. In the Baltic Sea, fishermen have reported catching "encrusted sulphur mustard" in fishing nets while trawling, posing threats to sea life as well as humans (Bearden, 2007). As these weapons continue to deteriorate, they threaten our seas and the ocean life, extending threats to humans and the environment around them.

In addition to the disposal of chemical weapons, the use of chemical weapons during wartime has long-lasting effects as well. …

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