Operating with UXO Containing White Phosphorus

by Ilham Azizov [ Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action ]

Destruction of WP UXO with explosives underneath. Photo courtesy of Anama EOD Team

This article provides a brief account of the unexploded ordnance problem in Azerbaijan and describes the particular hazards of dealing with UXO containing white phosphorus. Drawing from the experience of the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action's work at Saloglu, guidelines for handling WP UXO are discussed.

The efforts of the government of Azerbaijan and NATO to eliminate the country's UXO problem resulted in an agreement between the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency and the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action. The agreement launched a joint project on clearing UXO and explosive hazards in the former military base at Saloglu in the Agstafa district of Azerbaijan in January 2006. The Saloglu Project was the first result of cooperation between Azerbaijan and NATO within the Partnership for Peace program. The role of Turkey as a lead nation on the Saloglu Project should be particularly emphasized—its experts have largely contributed to the project's implementation through monitoring and technical supervision.

The military ammunition warehouse located in Agstafa region, consisting of 138 bunkers, was the largest of the Soviet warehouses in the South Caucasus region. In 1991, when Azerbaijan regained its independence, the Soviet Army destroyed the warehouse before departing. As the result of the explosion, thousands of pieces of UXO, including those containing white phosphorous, were scattered over 4,400 hectares (17 square miles), posing a serious humanitarian, socioeconomic and environmental threat to the local population. Since the explosion, 152 UXO-related accidents have been reported, with 32 people killed.

The project covers checking, clearance and removal of stockpiled UXO located at the towns Agstafa and Poylu of Agstafa district. After the implementation of the project, it has become clear that the problem is more serious and more difficult to solve than was initially thought by the international experts during their assessment missions to Azerbaijan. Obtaining some experience from the on-site operations conducted in the frame of the project, our UXO operations team has implemented a few new techniques for handling fuse-free UXO and devices containing explosives of various types, including those with WP. The following paragraphs present our experience garnered from operating with WP-containing devices.

Operating with UXO containing WP (White Phosphorous)

There are few countries in the world affected by WP UXO stockpile contamination similar to what we have encountered during operations; therefore, our team would like to share some critical safety guidelines obtained from our explosive ordnance disposal team's experience.

Up to the end of 2006 there were approximately 15,000 pieces of Russian-produced WP UXO found during ANAMA operations. The demolition of these UXO items entails filling the WP compound in vacuum conditions. Therefore, when it is exposed to oxygen it instantaneously combusts and emits toxic smoke, and it is very difficult to stop the burning if appropriate measures are not taken beforehand. Because the WP compound left on subsurface fragments will cause serious burns if it comes into contact with human skin, it is important to be extremely careful while dealing with this type of UXO.

In order to prevent any negative effects to humans while handling the devices containing WP, personal protective equipment should include leather gloves of a special design, fireproof coveralls over body armor, hard hats, respirators and glasses. In case of an emergency, an onsite medical support team should have a compound solution of sodium carbonate and copper sulfate available to smear over affected areas.

Another innovation to protect the team consists of a water-filled, metal tub installed at a site. As soon as the subsurface fragments with the WP are recovered, they are immediately placed into the tub to prevent burning. If the tub is too far from the operation point, then ordinary metal buckets of water may be utilized for collecting the fragments. A team of four or five people should be able to move the tubs to the demolition area safely.

During the demolition preparation the WP UXO projectiles can be mixed with the other types of munitions, because usually the thickness of their casing is greater and there are no other explosives inside. This process requires a larger donor charge to disrupt and vaporize these items, for example, TNT to destroy WP-free projectiles. Also, explosives used during the demolition operations of WP ammunition should be placed underneath the stockpile in order to provide the maximum possible height of explosion, as this will prevent scattering and provide full neutralization of the WP substance.

This article has provided an overview of our team's operations in the field as part of the Saloglu Project. Hopefully, this account of our team's work has given the international demining community useful insights into dealing with the unique hazards of UXO containing white phosphorous. Bullet


Ilham Azizov served as Training and Quality Assurance Officer with the Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action from 2002 to 2007. During that time he contributed to the United Nations Development Programme and the government of Azerbaijan Joint Project overseeing, the training and quality assurance team's activities in the field, and monitoring demining organizations' operations. Azizov recently began working for Halliburton. In the fall of 2005, he completed the the United Nations Development Programme's Senior Managers Course through James Madison University's Mine Action Information Center.

Contact Information

Fikret Aliyev
Training and Quality Assurance Officer
Azerbaijan National Agency for Mine Action
65 St. Fizuli, 5th Floor
Baku AZ1014 / Azerbaijan
Tel: +994 124 973 851
Fax: +994 124 974 427
Cell: +994 55 624 72 57 or +994 50 408 54 96
E-mail: faliyev@anama.baku.az or fikretaliyev@yahoo.com
Web site: http://www.anama.baku.az

Ilham Azizov
E-mail: ilham.azizov@halliburton.com