The zone rouge is an area near Verdun, France that extends to around 460 square miles of forest, and was the home to the Battle of Verdun. This battle, which was the longest sustained conflict in World War I, left behind such devastation that the area continues to be dangerous to this day.
During the battle, the Germans and the French faced off on the hills north of Verdun-sur-Meuse in France in February 1916. Verdun was an area that was considered to be quite sentimental to the French due to 20 large forts and 40 smaller ones that had protected the French for centuries. The Germans felt that if they took the area, the French would lose everything they had trying to defend it.
Of course, it worked, however, it didn’t go as planned. As a result, one of the longest and bloodiest conflicts in the history of the world took place.
The battle continued for 303 days and cost 377,231 French soldiers as well as 337,000 German soldiers. There are speculations that the figures could actually reach much higher due to civilians.
French soldiers mostly used 75 mm field guns in the beginning of the battle, while the Germans used more advanced options including storm-troopers with flamethrowers. Grenades, poison gas, and machine guns were also used. However, the most popular weapon of choice for both sides were highly explosive artillery shells that were created to decimate trenches and stone forts. Millions of these shells were used, and due to that, the area will never be the same.
It wasn’t until the end of the war that the French found out exactly how long it would take to restore the area. Many experts have suggested that it would take anywhere from 300 to 700 years to clean up the devastation.
Now, there are guided “Battle of Verdun” tours in a recreated version of the area. It includes memorials and even restaurants. Unfortunately, the area is still quite dangerous. One could even say that for many, it could be a ticking time bomb. Weapons, helmets, bone fragments, and pieces of explosive artillery can still be found in the area.
These explosives, even if they have already been used, are still quite dangerous due to chemicals they contain. Also, due to the poison gas, there are millions of tons of poison gunk that continue to cling to the area to this day. In some parts of the area, the gunk is so compacted that it creates patches in which plants and animals both meet their end.
What’s more concerning is the fact that the area continues to get worse. In soil samples taken in the area, it was found that the ground held levels of arsenic up to 17%. This sample was found in 2004 and is thousands of times higher than previous decades. Scientists have also confirmed high levels of mercury and zinc. Sadly, they continue to increase rather than decrease, and these toxic substances can remain in the soil and water for up to 10,000 years.
The French and EU authorities maintain that they are working diligently to monitor crops that are harvested in the region as well as those lying on the outskirts. Many don’t believe they are doing enough, though, and have questioned their efforts. Some have suggested that they aren’t doing anything because of the fear of impacting local economies.
Unfortunately, while the war may be over, its devastating impact is not.
The casualties of this battle continue to take place to this day, because of the environmental havoc that it caused. Sources of both food and water contain toxins, and animal and plant life find it hard to thrive there. While tourists can visit certain parts of the area, if they found their way into the most contaminated areas they could risk never making it home. Furthermore, if they do, who knows what those horrific chemicals will do to their body in the long run. Obviously, the “red zone” is an apt name for the area until the governments over the area are able to correct the damage done.