The Risks and Dangers of Unexploded Ordnance

The Risks and Dangers of Unexploded Ordnance

30 Apr 2023

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This informal CPD article, ‘The Risks and Dangers of Unexploded Ordnance’, was provided by Brimstone Site Investigation who are Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) experts dedicated to the safe removal and disposal of Unexploded Ordnance (UXO) across the United Kingdom and around the globe.

The Risks and Dangers of Unexploded Ordnance

There are a range of risks posed by unexploded ordnance (UXO), from accidental explosions and serious injury to devastating environmental impacts. Whether it’s legacy world war items or practice bombs from military training, unexploded ordnance should always be considered dangerous and dealt with by UXO specialists.

What is unexploded ordnance?

Unexploded ordnance is explosive ordnance which has been primed, fused, armed or prepared for action in conflict. It may have been buried, dropped, fired, launched or placed in such a manner that constitutes a hazard and remains unexploded either by design or malfunction. UXO can also refer to explosive ordnance that has been left behind or dumped after armed conflicts. UXO often contains unstable compounds which can become more sensitive over time.

Unplanned explosions

Items of UXO can detonate unexpectedly if disturbed, which can cause damage to nearby infrastructure. In order for an item of UXO to detonate, there needs to be a change in the conditions surrounding the ordnance, such as a change in temperature or movement.

Potential risks of explosive ordnance

A recent of example of this is the unplanned detonation of a 250kg bomb in Great Yarmouth. The WWII bomb was discovered during dredging works on the River Yare. Army specialists were called in to dispose of the item, however, it detonated whilst low order defusal techniques were being carried out on it. The explosion damaged nearby flood walls, broke car windows and shook buildings up to 15 miles away.

Fatalities and injuries

So far nobody has been killed in the UK from a UXO incident, however, there sadly have been several fatalities in Europe where construction workers and bomb disposal specialists have been seriously injured or killed by UXO related incidents. One example of this was in 2014, when a construction worker in Germany was killed after a power shovel struck an unexploded WWII bomb. Two others were also critically wounded in the incident.

Post-conflict communities also see regular UXO fatalities and serious injuries. Save the Children reported that a child in Yemen was killed or injured by landmines or other explosive devices every two days on average during 2022. Meanwhile UNICEF reported that in Syria, landmines and unexploded ordnance was the leading cause of child casualties in 2021.

Environmental impacts

It’s not just human factors that should be considered when thinking about UXO risk. Unexploded ordnance can have devastating impacts on the environment too. For example, tropical storms and increased rainfall have led to flooding and landslides around the world, which can expose and displace UXO. People may be evacuated to dangerous and contaminated areas, while the degrading ordnance releases harmful chemicals, contaminating soil and groundwater.

Forest fires are also on the rise, which consequently increases temperatures and can trigger items of UXO to detonate. For example, 2020 saw devastating fires across the eastern regions of Ukraine, which were already contaminated with UXO before the current conflict. It’s possible that gunfire set off some of the wildfires, which detonated shells left over from fighting between 2014 - 2016. Similar situations have also arisen in countries including Italy and Slovenia, where wildfires set off unexploded ordnance from WWI, causing further devastation.

Managing the risk

Overall, the presence of UXO poses significant risks and dangers to individuals, communities, and the environment. UXO risk management is a complex and potentially dangerous field that involves assessing, identifying, and mitigating the risks associated with explosive remnants of war. This is why UXO specialists should always be used when suspected UXO items are discovered.

We hope you found this article helpful. For more information from Brimstone Site Investigation, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively, you can go to the CPD Industry Hubs for more articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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For more information from Brimstone Site Investigation, please visit their CPD Member Directory page. Alternatively please visit the CPD Industry Hubs for more CPD articles, courses and events relevant to your Continuing Professional Development requirements.

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