HC Deb 09 February 1994 vol 237 cc358-9W
Mr. Llew Smith

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) what recent assessment has been made of persistence in the oceanic environment of chemical weapon agents used in(a) Operation Harness, (b) Operation Ozone and (c) Operation Negation in the Bahamas in the 1940s and 1950s;

(2) what recent assessments have been made by his Department into the persistence in the environment of chemical pathogens used in Operation Cauldron in Scottish waters off Stornaway in 1952 and Operation Hesperus in Scottish waters in 1953.

Mr. Hanley

These are matters for the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment—CBDE—under its framework document. I have asked the chief executive to write to the hon. Member.

Letter from Graham S. Pearson to Mr. Llew Smith, dated 9 February 1994:

Parliamentary Questions 26 and 519, Order Papers 2 and 3 February 1994

1. Your Parliamentary Questions to the Secretary of State for Defence asking what assessment has been made of the persistence in the environment of the biological agents used in Operations HARNESS, OZONE and NEGATION in the Bahamas in the 1940s and 1950s and in Operations CAULDRON and HESPERUS in the Scottish waters in 1952 and 1953 have been passed to me to reply as Chief Executive of the Chemical and Biological Defence Establishment.

2. The biological agents in these trials were disseminated from point sources either instantaneously or for a few minutes. As soon as the agents began their down-wind travel as an aerosol, the living microorganisms started to die naturally as a result of exposure to such factors as solar radiation. In addition, the agent would be diluted continuously to an increasing extent in the atmosphere so that the concentration rapidly dropped below one that might present any danger. Finally, gravitational forces would cause agent particles to be deposited on the sea. Any agent particles falling into the sea would be massively diluted as well as killed by the bactericidal and virucidal effects of the sea water.

3. Thus dilution into the atmosphere, deposition of particles into the sea and the progressive decay of the microorganisms with ensuing loss of viability and infectivity meant that the biological agent aerosols have a finite life. In effect, the biological agents ceased to exist after some period of time and distance down-wind.

4. Conditions were selected for these trials and downwind safety areas delineated from which shipping was kept away to ensure that there was no hazard to the public or to the environment.

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