Barrels previously containing mustard gas removed from Saaremaa

Barrels containing mustard gas in Saaremaa.
Barrels containing mustard gas in Saaremaa. Source: ERR

Seven barrels thought to have once contained mustard gas were removed from the woods around Sõrve in Saaremaa last week after tests revealed the toxic substance.

Just before Christmas last year, metal detectorists found seven metal barrels with a strong smell in the ground in Sõrve. Tests carried out by the Environmental Inspectorate confirmed the substance to be decomposition elements of mustard gas, a dangerous substance regulated under the Chemical Weapons Convention.

On Friday, specialists from the Rescue Board removed them from the ground.

When the barrels were first discovered, unaware of their contents, the inspectors took samples without any special protection as it was thought to be fuel or petrol. This is one of the first times such quantities of mustard gas have been dealt with in Estonia.

The chief inspector of the Environmental Inspectorate, Anneli Vahter, thought it was a fuel or petroleum product. "I did not know to protect myself. The smell was quite intense. But the smell was also reminiscent of shale oil," Vahter said.

Jan Raidloo, an expert in the chemical and radiation protection unit at the Rescue Board, said it cannot be said with certainty the mustard gas is still in the barrels. "It is suspected that these barrels once contained mustard gas, the product of which we have identified as decomposing. However, currently, only decomposition products have been identified, which does not suggest that mustard gas is present," he said.

Vahter said the analysis showed the barrels contained sulfur compounds, nitrogen compounds, toluene and xylene.

The Environmental Inspectorate, which was tasked with removing the barrels, confirmed that they had been left in the ground for a long time between their discovery and removal.

Raidloo said: "When the laboratory became aware of the results action was taken immediately. It was simply not known that the barrels could contain such a substance. The reaction would have been different if they had known sooner."

How and when the barrels came to Sõrve is not yet clear.


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Editor: Helen Wright

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