Swiss lakes used to dump tons of unwanted ammo By Clare Chapman in Zurich (Filed: 05/12/2004) They may look like the stuff of chocolate boxes, but for decades some of Switzerland's most beautiful lakes have concealed a disturbing secret: thousands of tons of weapons dumped by the Swiss army and the country's arms industry. In a revelation which has shocked many Swiss people and alarmed the tourist industry, the defence ministry has admitted the full extent of unwanted munitions tipped into the country's lakes over the past 70 years. Between 1935 and 1966 one military machinery manufacturer, Oerlikon Buehrle, dumped 90 tons of ammunition into Lake Zurich - a popular spot for water sports and swimming. Lake Constance is among other tourist jewels into which guns and artillery, gas mask filters, stoves, oil, photo equipment, scrap metal and barbed wire have been dumped. The full litany of dangerous military material and waste emerged when a deadline passed for local authorities to publish full information on water quality, under a law enacted in 1998. Many Swiss people have been shocked to hear that their government not only knew about the dumping of military waste by private contractors but also deposited vast quantities of unwanted munitions itself. Alexander Stuessi, the deputy head of the military planning permission department at Switzerland's Defence Ministry (VBS), said: "We have known about the waste since 1992 and since then have been looking into what is best to do with it. Our conclusion so far is that it is best left where it is." The government estimates that 8,210 tons of ammunition lies beneath the lakes' clear surfaces. More than half of that is thought to lie in Lake Thun which covers 18 square miles in the Bernese Alps and is the site of a state arms factory. Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the World Wildlife Fund, said that Switzerland needed a clear inventory of the waste in its lakes, and an assessment of the risks posed to the country's inhabitants - 80 per cent of whose drinking water is drawn from the lakes. Dr Matthias Wuthrich, a toxicologist who played a key role in the campaign for more information on weapons dumping, said: "The materials that are lying abandoned on the lake beds are certain to corrode over time releasing all manner of substances, including nitrates. It is vital to decontaminate them." The practice began after the Second World War when Swiss army warehouses were full of unused and surplus military equipment. After several explosions at weapons stores killed dozens of people, the government decided to get rid of the surplus in 1948. Campaigners say that munitions waste has already harmed the lakes' wildlife, with evidence of genital mutations among fish. The government, however, believes that attempting to remove the abandoned munitions could worsen the problem by causing them to break up or explode. Mr Stuessi said that the tourist industry would not be damaged unduly. "The problem is likely to be just as prevalent in other countries like Austria - it's just that nobody there is talking about it."