The Parliamentary Secretary for Defence, Senator David Feeney, announced today that Defence has successfully destroyed a cache of more than 140 US-origin World War II shells and other artillery items in Columboola, QLD.
The shells contained mustard chemical warfare agent and were found in Columboola in June 2009 by mining company contractors surveying the site for unexploded ordnance.
The munitions were destroyed by explosive detonation in a purpose-built detonation chamber that captures and neutralises all potentially hazardous gases leaving only clean scrap metal.
The cost of the chamber and destroying the items was more than $34 million.
“I’m pleased to let the community know that the munitions have been safely destroyed, with the help of expertise from the United States’ chemical munitions destruction program and an Australian team of specialists,” Senator Feeney said.
“Specialist trained personnel and X-ray technologies made sure that this demolition work was safe and complied with Australia’s international treaty obligations.”
“A number of United States Army trained technicians were deployed to Australia in September 2010 to examine the munitions. These expert technicians were able to confirm that even after more than 60 years buried in the soil, the items still contained explosives, active liquid mustard agent or the hazardous remains of this dangerous chemical compound.”
“Defence made sure that the demolition and the WWII munitions did not pose any risk to the community, workers or the environment,” the Senator said.
Old chemical munitions such as these are now regulated by the United Nations’ Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) based at The Hague in the Netherlands.
Officials from OPCW conducted a formal verification inspection of the site and the recovered munitions in September 2010 prior to approving Australia’s plans to destroy these items.
Defence has also employed a team of Australian specialist technicians to undertake a detailed geophysical survey of about 200 hectares of the former ammunition depot site.
The results from that work are still being thoroughly assessed by experts, however a preliminary analysis points to a strong likelihood that other munition items may still be buried at the site.
Defence plans to excavate the features pinpointed by the survey. If further chemical ordnance items are recovered, Defence will use the same specialised equipment currently located at the site to destroy them. Ultimately, the site will be returned to the mining company.
“I would like to remind members of the public of the dangers posed by unexploded ordnance that may be at old World War II sites such as Columboola,” Senator Feeney said.
“If people do find old munitions, they should call the local Police. The Police will work with Defence to remove the ordnance.”
Lorna Clarke – 0408 345 730
Defence Media Operations (02) 6127 1999 or 0408 498 664