Scientists Say U.S. Must Help Kuwaitis Clear Burining Fields

THE JOURNAL RECORD, April 4, 1991 | Go to article overview

Scientists Say U.S. Must Help Kuwaitis Clear Burining Fields


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WASHINGTON (AP) - U.S. military help is urgently needed to clear Kuwaiti oil fields of mines, a group of scientists ing that failure to move quickly could greatly slow efforts to put out hundreds of burning wells.

``If there isn't a priority to clear the mines, this job is going to stretch out two or three times,'' said Dr. William Wattenbug, a munitions expert and consultant with the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory of California.

``There is a sense of desperation. We've got to move,'' said Wattenburg, a participant in a Union of Concerned Scientists' symposium on strategies to combat the oil fires set by the Iraqi military.

Meantime, the Environmental Protection Agency said investigators who visited Kuwait found no immediate, life-threatening dangers from the fires. The EPA did say people with asthma and chronic lung disease could find their conditions worsened by exposure to smoke from the fires.

The agency also cautioned that people withing range of the smoke ``are being exposed to an increasing health risk, the magnitude of which cannot be estimated with any degree of certainty without further measurements and surveys.''

Scientists said the fields of mines, booby traps and cluster bombs dropped by coalition planes are impeding efforts by American well-cappers to reach more than 500 wells with fires burning 6 million barrels of oil a day.

Perhaps even more serious, they said, are the huge, spreading pools of oil oozing onto the desert floor and into underground aquifers from the 80 to 90 wells damaged from Iraqi explosives but not set on fire.

Military minesweeping teams ``have certainly been as helpful as they can,'' Wattenburg said, but without the major commitment of equipment, particularly helicopters, needed.

The scientists said one problem is that minesweepers so far have focused on removing anti-personnel explosives around Kuwait City, the beach and the airport, where Kuwait's population is concentrated.

The wells have not been systematically surveyed for mines and the problem of explosives around burning oil fields ``is largely unaddressed,'' said Dr. …

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