MOD REQ 9- White Phosphorus Naval flares


Royal navy EOD disposal


The Royal Navy has used white phosphorus as well as calcium phosphide in flares over a long period of time. The following Parliamentary question provides some disturbing and illuminating insight into the problem of these toxic light bearers.


“I understand The Royal Navy has responsibility for all explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) tasks below the high-water mark around the UK’s coasts and that teams of mine-clearance divers based at Plymouth, Portsmouth and Faslane deal with these jobs among other
things. Can you confirm how marine flares containing white phosphorus are disposed of when they may wash ashore on UK beaches and if you collate and hold any information on the volume of such artefacts recovered by these three mine clearance teams?”

The Royal Navy Responded.

“I can confirm that the Home Office, through the Maritime Coastguard Agency and the Police, has the lead for the disposal of marine flares washed ashore and they may sometimes request EOD support through the Joint Service Operations Centre, in which case it is likely that RN Clearance divers will be tasked. The disposal method is burning in a controlled environment which, if the item is unsafe to transport, may occur at the task site (in a cage). Those items safe to transport are removed for subsequent disposal (incineration).

Additionally, you enquired whether we collate or hold any information on the volume of marine flares containing white phosphorous that have been recovered by the clearance teams. This information is not held centrally and it has been assessed that the costs for which we are permitted to charge in providing this information will exceed the appropriate limit. This appropriate limit, specified in regulations and for central government, is set at £600. This represents the estimated cost of one person spending 3½ working days in determining whether the Department holds the information, and locating, retrieving and extracting the information. Under the terms of Section 12 of the FOI Act, this means that we are not obliged to comply with your request.”


We do not know what damage has been caused to marine life around the coast of Britain or elsewhere by the release of white phosphorus based flares. Their presence in the water is not in any way good for the environment, but has white phosphorus poisoning of marine life that may have ingested particles from  these items ever been studied?