French Farmland Still Contaminated By WW1 Shells

According to an Official French Press release, a large area of northern French farmland has been banned from selling any produce until some guarantees are met. The French region of Meuse has been reported to be a ‘recycling site’ for millions of First World War bombshells. This process has reportedly left the soil of the farmland in the region severely contaminated with harmful metals.

Throughout the First World War, all parties involved in the conflict made sure that they had enough stockpiles of weapons and bombs to fight the war over an extended period of time. However after the War ended in 1918 and peace was achieved, every nation had gigantic piles of unused bombshells lying around. A large number of recycling organization appeared around that time with a perfect solution; to dismantle the unused weaponry and utilize the metal for other useful purposes.

One such company was Clere & Schwander, and according to the daily L’Est Republicain, from 1919 to 1926 Clere & Schwander disposed off tons of old ordnance. The company used a variety of quick ways to get rid of the shells, including blowing them up, burning them, dismantling them and draining them into the soil. Academics and historians suggest that during and after the war there was no such thing as systematic public safety regulations, therefore such organizations thrived without any significant government interference. In most of the cases general public had absolutely no idea about the implications of the operations conducted in their neighborhoods.

A French environmental group known as ‘Robin Des Bois’ (Robin Hood) brought the critical issue to the public eye by releasing a detailed report about the effects of unexploded bombs. The report caught the public eye due to its perfect timing; it coincided with 70th anniversary of famous D-day invasion.

This is a very disconcerting situation for the local farmers who have been farming these lands for decades. Due to the ban imposed by the authorities, farmers are claiming they have already lost $167,000 worth of milk and other produce. Despite the fact that Environment and Energy Management has announced that a massive sum of $233,000 has been set aside to reimburse the farmers, however farmers believe that their loss could be in much higher numbers, the Vice News reports.

Authorities first carried out an initial test of the soil and some of the produce grown on the land including wheat, barley and milk of the cows grazing on the land went under the microscope. Although the traces of deadly metals such as lead were low, researchers were not fully sure about the quantity of other harmful agents present in the soil. Officials have hinted that the full process of testing and ensuring that the land is safe to farm could take up to six months and until then they cannot allow any farming on the land, in the best interest of the public safety.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE