UXO is the short-hand for unexploded ordnance, which are explosive devices (military munitions such as bombs, rockets, missiles, grenades and landmines) that were deployed, but did not detonate as intended. These munitions were prepared for action (i.e. primed, fused or armed) and deployed in a manner to pose a risk to operations, installations or personnel, yet remain unexploded for various reasons such as malfunction or design. Even after decades of dormancy, UXO presents a tremendous risk to day-to-day operations in a given area. UXO exists worldwide and poses a potentially lethal threat in any area in which it is present.
The risk presented by UXO is rivaled only by its prevalence. Dating as far back as the late 1800s, UXO is encountered domestically and abroad in nearly every industrialized country, such as in former combat areas or former defense sites (such as firing ranges and testing sites). Particularly heavy concentrations of UXO exist in regions that have encountered substantial bombing during past wars, such as Germany, France, Belgium, Lebanon, the United Kingdom and particularly Laos, which remains the most heavily-bombed country in history. In Laos alone, UXO has taken more than 50,000 lives since 1964.
The imminent threat of UXO-related casualties or property damage is not restricted to heavily-bombed or war-torn countries; the United States and Canada are also heavily affected. In 2002, the Environmental Protection Agency declared that UXO poses “an imminent and substantial” health risk and may require the most costly domestic environmental clean-up in history at nearly $14 billion. In the former Southwestern Proving Ground, located in Arkansas, there remains an estimated 1,000 UXO per acre. The actual UXO found on a site often far exceeds the estimates. For example, on the Lowry bombing range in Colorado, it was estimated that UXO exist at a density of 0.4 per acre. Upon excavation, however, UXO in the area was found at a density of 38 per acre – 95 times higher than estimated! UXO has been found at 16,000 inactive military ranges in the U.S. Taken together, the UXO-contaminated sites comprise approximately 15 million acres – or roughly the size of Florida.
The prevalence of UXO throughout the U.S. can lead to a widespread rate of incidents. The inherent dangers associated with UXO can largely be attributed to the deterioration of the detonator and main charge, which makes these already volatile components more sensitive to disturbance. Munitions that were once deemed “duds” and discarded can pose a potent threat due to their volatile natures. The overwhelming majority, if not all, of UXO related-incidents can be avoided if handled by properly-trained UXO Technicians. It is universally recommended that UXO should not be touched or handled by unqualified persons; only properly trained professionals can safely neutralize the threat posed by the discarded munitions.Still have questions about UXO? Check out the U.S. Army Environmental Command (USAEC).