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Tuesday, 24 April, 2001, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Napalm could aid carcass disposal
Vietnam conflict: Napalm has horrific associations
Mention of napalm immediately conjures images of jungle warfare, destruction and horrific human casualties.

The photograph of a naked young girl fleeing a napalm attack became one of the most poignant images of the Vietnam War.

But the highly flammable fuel-based weapon has now been suggested as an effective way of speeding up the disposal of thousands of animals slaughtered in the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Environment Minister Michael Meacher said there were environmental arguments in favour of using the chemical because it was quicker and did not produce vaporising pollutants or dioxins.

Napalm will dispose of carcasses in 60 minutes, where pyres take three days

Labour MP Tam Dalyell
Environmental groups and health authorities have raised concerns about the toxic effects of the existing pyres which use wooden railway sleepers, coal, and old tyres to fuel the blaze - releasing cancer-causing dioxins into the air.

Lethal weapon

Developed by US scientists during World War II for use in flame throwers and weapons, napalm is a mixture of gasoline, benzene and a thickening agent.

It is easier to control and burns slower than gasoline. It also burns at a temperature of about 1,000C, compared to 675C for thickened gasoline - ensuring the required destruction of infected carcasses.

Kim Phic running from US napalm attack
One of the enduring images of napalm is its use in Vietnam
Practical uses of napalm outside war zones have included containing oil spills and destroying anthrax-infected cattle carcasses in the United States.

In 1999, more than 600 gallons of napalm and 400 pounds of explosives were used to destroy a beached cargo vessel carrying nearly 400,000 gallons of fuel in an attempt to save Oregon's beaches from a disastrous oil spill.

Urging the Ministry of Agriculture to consider all the alternatives to the pyres, Tim Brown of the National Society for Clean Air and Environmental Protection (NSCA) said napalm could be an option.

"If you decide burning is the best option, we'd like a proper look at napalm. It sounds ideal: it's very hot, it burns quickly, and it coats the carcasses in a gel while they burn. And it's a lot cheaper than building a pyre."

Napalm facts
Mix of gasoline, magnesium, sodium nitrate, petroleum
Developed for flame throwers
The US dropped 100,000 tons of napalm on Vietnam
One ton of napalm will burn a football field in seconds.
Campaign groups in the United States have battled against moves to transport napalm for re-use or recycling, fearing the risks of the napalm leaking and igniting.

Labour MP Tam Dalyell suggested the government contact the Nevada Department of Agriculture at Reno or the Louisiana State Veterinary Service at Baton Rouge, who have experience in the use of napalm.

Mr Dalyell said: "Napalm will dispose of carcasses in 60 minutes, where pyres take three days.

"Because of the lack of vaporising effect of napalm, you don't get the by-products, the dioxins, that may arise from the burning of sleepers or old tyres."

But the chemical's devastating wartime history and its public perception that may put ministers off using napalm.

A spokesman for the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions said the use of napalm was unlikely.

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See also:

23 Apr 01 | Health
'A mild and transient disease'
23 Apr 01 | Health
Human foot-and-mouth: The history
25 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Photo that haunted the world
12 Feb 99 | Americas
Napalm used on beached ship
18 Jul 98 | Americas
US napalm recycling shipments begin
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