White Phosphorus – Case Study Example

Health Sciences and Medicine White Phosphorus White Phosphorus Introduction White phosphorous is a chemical substance which ignites and burns while exposed to oxygen, and consequently generates dense white smoke. This substance is made from an allotrope of the chemical element phosphorous. The white phosphorous or WP is mainly used for military purposes. White phosphorous munitions were extensively used by American, Commonwealth, and Japanese forces during the World War II. Recently, US forces used WP against enemy areas at Fallujah in 2004. In addition to military purposes, WP is used in a number of products ranging from soft drinks to toothpastes. At the same time, the WP has many dreadful effects also as it may cause injuries and even deaths. This paper will examine how the use of WP causes adverse impacts on the populations across the globe.
Applications of WP
The WP is extensively used in tracer, smoke, illumination, and incendiary munitions. Different applications of WP are briefly described below.
1. Incendiary munitions
Military forces across the world widely use WP as it is a pyrophoric material which is rapidly oxidized into phosphorous pentoxide when exposed to air. As a result of this reaction, large heat is produced simultaneously with dense white smoke. White phosphorous burning results in painful injuries, which would take long time to recover. Often, the white phosphorous burning would be deep, multiple, and variable in size. Military forces widely use this weapon since white phosphorous keeps burning until the whole material is consumed or the substance is deprived of oxygen.
2. Smoke
Since the WP is an efficient smoke producing agent, it forms a smoke screen as it burns. Therefore, this substance can be used as smoke grenades in order to create a visual cover for ground operations and to mask the movement of military troops.
3. Non-military applications
Industries extensively deploy WP to produce phosphoric acid and other chemicals which are usable in fertilizers, cleaning compounds, and food additives. World- wide demand for fertilizers has greatly increased the significance of WP. Since the concentrated phosphoric acid contains 70% to 75% P2O5 content, the WP has of great significance to agriculture and farm production. In addition, this substance plays a crucial role in the production of phosphorous bronze, steels, and many other products.
Dreadfulness of White Phosphorous
White phosphorous may cause injuries and sometimes even death. A WP weapon’s initial explosion may release incandescent particles which may in turn produce extensive second and third degree burns. The element has an increased tendency to stick to the skin. In the case of phosphorous burns, further phosphorous particles are absorbed into the body though the burned area; this dreadful condition may result in heart, liver, and kidney damage. Similarly, combustion of phosphorous produces dense white smoke that contains higher amount of phosphorous pentoxide. When people exposed to heavy phosphorous smoke concentrations for a longer period, it may cause illness or even death. Scientific studies have proven that white phosphorous smoke may harmfully affect the eyes, respiratory tract, and mucous membranes of the nose. Oral ingestion is another serious issue associated with white phosphorous usage. According to Racine, Walsh, Roebuck, Collins, Calkins, Reitsma, Buchli, and Goldfarb (1992), approximately 1,000 to 2,000 migrating dabbling ducks and 10 to 50 swans are yearly killed in Alaska as a result of oral ingestion of white phosphorous.
Likewise, recent studies show that toxicity of white phosphorous may cause environmental damage. “Other potential problems with white phosphorous are that decomposition products are poorly defined and that white phosphorous has the potential to bioaccumulate in organisms higher in the food chain” (Noyes, 1996, p.188).
Evidently, military applications of white phosphorous have more fatal effects. For the last decade different countries have extensively used white phosphorous for military purposes. Some of the latest uses of white phosphorous are illustrated below.
Statistical information
As Barillo, Cancio, and Goodwin (2004) points out, it is estimated that there were 276 people with chemical burn injury (who meet all the criteria of American Burn Association) during the last half of the 20th century; and out of these 276 chemical burn injury cases, 146 were white phosphorous related cases.
Military regulations
Despite all international laws that regulate white phosphorous use, the same laws allow the use of WP against military targets outside civilian areas. The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) has outlawed the use of white phosphorous as a chemical weapon. At the same time, the CWC permits the use of WP if it is deployed to camouflage the military movement by producing dense smoke. Although, the use of WP is regulated by international humanitarian law, it is still extensively used in modern military operations.
The above discussion reveals the range of extensive use of white phosphorous especially, for military applications across the globe. Although WP has wide rages of application in modern industries, its dreadful implications raises several ethical questions about its applicability.
Barillo, D. J, Cancio, L. C & Goodwin, C. W. (2004). “Treatment of the white phosphorus and other chemical burn injuries at one burn center over a 51-year old period”. Elsevier Limited. 30(5). 448-452.
Noyes, R. (1996). Chemical weapons destruction and explosive waste/ unexploded ordnance remediation. USA: Noyes Publications.
Racine, C. H, Walsh, M. E, Roebuck, B. D, Collins, C. M, Calkins, D, Reitsma, L, Buchli, P & Goldfarb, G (1992). “White phosphorus poisoning of waterfowl in an Alaskan salt marsh”. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 28(4). 669-673.