The British Ministry of Defence (MoD) has confirmed that three sites in Derry, Clady and Omagh, formerly used by the military for the storage of chemical warfare agents, were subject of a contamination review initiated just over a decade ago.
‘Project Cleansweep’ was set up the MoD in 2007.
It hasn’t reported yet but the MoD has confirmed to this newspaper that three locations in the North were considered under its remit, all of which were in the North West and West.
Internal MoD briefing documents show that the military were concerned over potential contamination from old British and United States army chemical weapons factories, storage depots and handling facilities in both Britain and Ireland.
Chemical warfare experts were called in “to provide assurance that residual contamination caused as a result of the manufacture, storage, handling or disposal of chemical warfare agents (principally mustard agent) on sites in the United Kingdom does not pose a risk to human health or the environment”.
The documents continue: “It is known that clearance would have been carried out on sites in the UK associated with chemical warfare agents when they were closed (often many decades ago) but we do not have scientific evidence that all harmful traces of the agents were removed or disposed of.
“Project Cleansweep initially carried out a desk study of a large number of sites across the UK where there was evidence of some prior connection to chemical warfare agents.”
Today this paper can reveal that sites in Derry, Omagh and Clady - the one in south Co. Derry rather than the one in Co. Tyrone - were the only three places in the North formerly associated with chemical weaponry, and as such, were the subject of ‘Project Cleansweep’s’ investigations.
The MoD confirmed that no reports relating to the local sites, the locations of which were unspecified, were ever compiled.
However, the military advised this paper that neither Fort George, Ebrington, Shackleton or the U.S. Naval Communication Station at Clooney were on the original longlist of chemical depots its scientists were interested in.
Having excluded Derry, Clady and Omagh, among other sites in Scotland, Wales and England, the MoD eventually whittled their list down to 14, all of which were in Britain and mainly in private ownership.
Once these sites had been physically screened there was, the MoD believed, “no indication of significant risk to public health or environment associated with the past storage or disposal of chemical weapon agents in the UK”.
The 14 strong shortlist, however, gives an insight into what the military were looking for, namely, chemical weapons factories, stores, dumps and depots where tens of thousands of tonnes of mustard agent, phosgene gas, lewisite and other lethal agents were handled.
The ‘Project Cleansweep’ completion report has not yet been published but will be made available externally once it’s finished, the MoD told this paper.