Uncontrolled Stockpile Explosions

The safe stewardship of weapons stockpiles is a global issue. In recent years, a number of catastrophic accidents have killed and injured thousands. Stockpiles are also common targets in conflict. The uncontrolled destruction of stockpiles, be it through accident or design, can generate intense hotspots of chemical contamination from the components and constituents of munitions, fuels and propellants. Insufficient attention is currently applied to the long-term environmental impact of these incidents. 


Case study: Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
Damaged buildings, wreckage and unexploded ordnance litter the area of the Regiment Blinde blast. Credit: MAG International

Damaged buildings, wreckage and unexploded ordnance litter the area of the Regiment Blinde blast. Credit: MAG International/OCHA JEU

In March 2012 an accident at the Regiment Blindé munitions depot in Brazzaville caused explosions that dispersed unexploded ordnance over a wide area, killing 282 people, injuring 3000 and displacing around 100,000. Several tonnes of explosive agents, rifle and artillery ammunition and possibly rocket fuel were all detonated in the blast, raising the risk of environmental contamination from the heavy metals and toxic explosive compounds present in the munitions. Because the site was located in a densely populated area, and following an official request, a sampling mission was undertaken to collect environmental data. Researchers subsequently recommended repeated sampling to monitor the risk to local people from drinking water contamination.

Key issues
  • The potential for chemical contamination from the destruction of munitions stockpiles requires that environmental assessment must be done as a standard part of response.
  • The environmental risks associated with the deliberate targeting of stockpiles during conflict must be given greater consideration by military planners.
  • Existing programmes aimed at improving stockpile stewardship and emergency response should do more to assess and minimise pollution risks stemming from improper storage.
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