Is there chemical munitions in our fish?

The EU project DAIMON (Decision Aid for Marine Munitions) consists of representatives from Poland, Finland, Germany, Sweden and Norway, all of which have one common goal: solve the problem of dumped munitions in the Baltic Sea area. Today there are reports of 65,000 tonnes of dumped chemical ammunition in the Baltic Sea and Skagerrak, which dates back to World War II. In this project, Fredrik Lindgren, researcher at Chalmers M2, together with Ingela Dahllöf, Professor of BioEnv, GU, went on a research expedition to a dumping area outside Måseskär to investigate the extent of which chemical warfare agents leaks from ship wrecks.
Before the holiday season, Fredrik Lindgren, a researcher at Chalmers M2, together with Ingela Dahllöf, a professor at BioEnv GU, went on a research expedition aboard a research vessel from Shirshov Institute in Kaliningrad. Fredrik tells us how the Allied and Russian troops dumped ammunition and chemical warfare agents in the Baltic and Skagerrak after war ended.

 - There were large stockpiles of this left in Germany, which they needed to get rid of and the idea was like "where is deep waters? Here is deep waters, dump it." It was dumped using ships filled with chemical munitions that was scuttled or by throwing large numbers of bombs overboard in the Bornholm and Gotland deeps, as well as in the Arendal deep outside the Oslo fjord, where the depth is approximately 500 meters. But also in an area west of Måseskär, which became our goal, where the chemical warfare agent Clark I was previously discovered.

In 2015, the Swedish Maritime Administration conducted surveys to locate the wreck at Måseskär, and earlier this year, the Swedish Agency for Marine and Water management also carried out test fishing using Marine 
Monitoring. Sending the samples for analysis to Finland, results came back stating that the chemical warfare agent, Clark I, had been found. Fredrik explains that the effects on humans of it can be resembled with symptoms of mustard gas. The eyes tear up, it can damage the respiratory tract, and cause severe nausea. It was during the same period that Ida-Maja Hassellöv, Associate Professor at M2, applied for Chalmers to participate in the DAIMON project. Chalmers wanted to contribute a risk analysis model for hazardous ship wrecks, VRAKA, developed by Hanna Landquist, former PhD student at the Department of Mechanics and Maritime Sciences. Within DAIMON, Chalmers will adapt the VRAKA model to also be able to handle risks of areas containing dumped chemical warfare agents, and has also been able to participate in research expeditions to sample sediment in these dumping areas.

 - I was working hard planning the sampling, reviewing where to sample and what to sample. We wanted to map the area where we the fish that contained Clark I had prevoiously been found. Our part of the expedition lasted for a total of six days and we took sediment samples from the area where there is a high concentration of ship wrecks, Fredrik says (see photo).

Each anchor in the picture shows a wreck. The purple points are sampling points. At numbers 26 and 46 they are expected to find chemical munitions. On the numbers 30 and 50 there is a scattering possibility, since the direction of current is in this direction. 1 and 10 are control areas where they do not expect to find anything.

 - Our main purpose is to investigate where in the area there is sediment contaminated with chemical warfare agents and to analyze concentrations. It is an area where they trawl daily for fish, fish that is further sold in food stores in Sweden.

They are also looking  for traces of effects of the chemical warfare agents in the environment and therefore samples were also taken of meiofauna. Meiofauna, small animals that live between grains of sand, are an important part of the ecosystem that constitutes food for small fish that later becomes food for larger fish. If the meiofauna is affected, the fish will be affected.

 - This is of great interest to both DAIMON and Swedish authorities. If we find something, we will take it further and explain the situation. High or low levels, there should be no chemical warfare agents in the fish we buy and eat.

For more information, contact Fredrik Lindgren or Ingela Dahllöf​.

Text: Hiba Fawaz
Pictures: Fredrik Lindgren

Published: Wed 16 Aug 2017. Modified: Thu 17 Aug 2017