By: Khalid Abu Fayyad
A few days ago, several studies by human rights organisations and medical experts have confirmed the use of White Phosphorus (WP) by Israeli occupation in its last aggression against Palestinian civilians in Gaza strip.
Using the WP for military purposes is controversial issue. While Geneva Convention on chemical weapons does not include the white phosphorus use as one of chemical weapons, some international organizations consider it as a chemical weapon. Regardless of these differences, our concern here what is White Phosphorous? What its effects on the health and environment?
WP is a waxy and transparent substance, with a yellowish colour and a smell similar to garlic odor. It is made of phosphates and reacts rapidly with oxygen, resulting in dense white fire and smoke.When phosphorus exposes to air, it generates a huge amount of heat that detonates phosphate element. Such explosion caused by this heat, produces a yellow flame and becomes aglow in dark.
WP can be used for many purposes. By virtue of the smoke that the WP could create, it can be used as signal to determine the army location. It can be also used to make a smokescreen to mask the enemy vision and its movements. In addition, WP is used to destroy the enemy’s weapons such as vehicles, oils, and petroleum and ammunition storage. Little amount of WP also used in fireworks and pesticides.
Due to extensive burns which WP can cause, it could result in kidney, heart and liver damage. Further, the use of WP can burn the human being body from flesh to the bone.
The inhalation of WP smoke for long period causes illnesses such as breaking jaw bone and injuries in the mouth while the inhalation of smoke for short period does have the possibility to cause irritation of the eyes and the respiratory system.
Moreover, W P pollutes air, soil and water and destroys biodiversity. Air becomes polluted with gases which results in burning of the phosphorus. These kinds of gazes are dangerous and poisonous. They can cause damages for respiratory and nervous systems of children and old people in particular.
Contamination of water and soil can be resulted in deposition of WP on the ground and bottom of seas and rivers. Thus, people are exposed to WP by eating polluted fish and swimming in contaminated water.
Finally, the spread of WP substance doses have massive destruction to the natural ecosystem of plants and animals and contamination of agricultural products that can be consumed later in the food chain.