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News Article | April 22, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

A crater is seen at the site of an airstrike, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ammar Abdullah MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia has told the United States it regrets Washington's opposition to letting its inspectors take part in an investigation into a chemical weapons attack in Syria earlier this month, the foreign ministry said on Friday. It said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov spoke by phone to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the two sides agreed to consider one more time an "objective investigation into the incident" under the aegis of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The U.S. State Department said that during the call Tillerson reiterated to Lavrov his support for the OPCW's existing investigative mechanism. They also discussed a range of issues, including those covered during Tillerson's April 11-12 visit to Moscow, the department said in a statement. The United States accused the Syrian army of carrying out the April 4 attack in which scores of people died from poison gas, and it responded by launching cruise missiles against a Syrian air base. Russia has defended its ally Damascus and blamed the incident on rebels fighting the government of President Bashar al-Assad. The episode added to a long list of disputes between the two countries and has dashed Russian hopes that ties might improve with Donald Trump in the White House. Trump said last week that relations with Moscow "may be at an all-time low." Referring to another irritant in the relationship, the Russian ministry said Lavrov called on Tillerson to hand back "Russian diplomatic property in the USA unlawfully confiscated by the Barack Obama administration." Former President Obama expelled 35 suspected Russian spies in December and ordered the Russians to depart two countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York that he said were linked to espionage.. The ministry said the parties had agreed to launch a working group soon "to seek ways to get rid of irritants in bilateral relations."


News Article | April 17, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

Nerve gas is back. Images of the victims and reports from doctors on the scene of yesterday’s Syrian government air strike on the rebel-held northern town of Khan Sheikhoun suggest the weapon used was the nerve agent, sarin. At least 70 men, women and children died and hundreds were injured. The timing of the attack seems startling, just a day ahead of today’s meeting in Brussels at which 70 countries are meant to discuss funding the reconstruction of Syria, and a week after senior US officials disavowed previous US calls to remove Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. It may have been aimed at sowing discord among Western allies, or demonstrating the regime’s defiance. But it could also just be a continuation of war as usual for the Assad regime, which has been increasingly using chemical attacks to terrorise civilians for the past several months, even though in 2013 it signed the international treaty banning chemical weapons and agreed to let its chemical stockpile be destroyed. It is not yet certain what chemical was involved in the attack, cautions chemical weapons expert Jean-Pascal Zanders. But doctors from the Syrian-American Medical Society (SAMS) who are in the area say victims exhibited “constricted (or ‘pinpoint’) pupils, foaming at the mouth, and the loss of consciousness, slow heart rate, slow breathing, vomiting, muscles spasms and other neurological symptoms consistent with nerve agents”. “The symptoms described are consistent with exposure to sarin or some other organophosphorus chemical,” says Ralf Trapp, a consultant formerly with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). “As some of the victims have been moved to Turkey, it may be possible to acquire biomedical samples from them to identify telltale chemical compounds formed by sarin reacting with molecules in the blood.” Russia, the Syrian government’s main ally, claims the incident in Khan Sheikhoun happened when conventional air strikes hit a rebel-held cache or factory for chemical weapons. There are reasons to doubt this. For one thing, sarin is unstable, and the Assad regime chose to stockpile its precursor chemical, which would be mixed with another chemical just before use to produce sarin. Any rebel-made agent would probably be handled similarly. Hitting a cache of this would release little sarin. Moreover, if Syrian air strikes released the agent by accidentally hitting an enemy cache, they were improbably lucky, as they managed to do the same thing at three separate locations in the area within 24 hours: SAMS reports two attacks on nearby villages the previous day that produced fewer casualties but with similar symptoms. And a Syrian government attack on a town near Palmyra last December also produced victims displaying symptoms of sarin. There was little international response, partly because “we cannot confirm the chemical used unless inspectors can take samples under proper conditions”, says Zanders. Assad seems unlikely to allow such access again. In 2013 the Syrian government launched a major attack on the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Ghouta, killing 1400. Inspectors from the OPCW, which enforces the treaty banning chemical weapons, were able to examine the attack site and confirm the use of sarin. As a result of that, a deal among world powers, including Russia, forced the Assad government to sign the treaty and declare its stockpile for destruction. The OPCW has confirmed that 94 per cent of what Assad declared was destroyed. But like UN weapons inspectors in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf war, the OPCW could never quite verify that everything was gone – and like Iraq’s Saddam Hussein before him, Assad has not been cooperating with their efforts to do so, says Zanders. And Assad has never lost his taste for chemicals. In 2014 he was already dropping barrel bombs of chlorine on civilian areas. As chlorine is used to purify water, it is not banned under the chemical weapons treaty, although its use as a weapon is. In February the UK-based Human Rights Watch reported that chlorine attacks had increased. But chlorine does not produce the telltale pinpoint pupils and other symptoms of sarin seen in Syria this week.


News Article | February 25, 2017
Site: news.yahoo.com

North Korea's state media has identified the victim only as Kim Chol -- the name under which Jong-Nam was travelling (AFP Photo/JUNG Yeon-Je) North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's half brother was assassinated with a lethal nerve agent manufactured for chemical warfare and listed by the UN as a weapon of mass destruction, Malaysian police said Friday. Releasing a preliminary toxicology report on Kim Jong-Nam's murder at Kuala Lumpur airport, police revealed the poison used by the assassins was the odourless, tasteless and highly toxic VX. The news brought condemnation from South Korea, which slammed the use of the nerve agent as a "blatant violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and other international norms". Experts in the South said Friday that North Korea has up to 5,000 tonnes of chemical weapons stockpiled, including a supply of VX. Kim died on February 13 after being attacked at Kuala Lumpur International Airport by two women, who are seen on CCTV footage shoving something in his face. He suffered a seizure and was dead before he reached hospital. An autopsy revealed traces of VX -- a fast-acting toxin that sparks respiratory collapse and heart failure -- on the dead man's face and in his eyes. Tiny amounts of the poison are enough to kill an adult, whether it is inhaled or absorbed through the skin. "I am outraged that the criminals used such a dangerous chemical in a public area," said Malaysia's Environment Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar. It "could have caused mass injuries or even death to other people". One of the two women arrested after the attack fell ill in custody, police said, adding she had been vomiting. National police chief Khalid Abu Bakar has previously said the woman who attacked Kim from behind clearly knew she was carrying out a poison attack, dismissing claims that she thought she was taking part in a TV prank. "The lady was moving away with her hands towards the bathroom," Khalid said earlier this week. "She was very aware that it was toxic and that she needed to wash her hands." The Hague-based Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), whose member states include Malaysia and South Korea, said Friday the suspected use of a nerve agent was "deeply disturbing". "OPCW stands ready to provide its expertise and technical assistance," it added in a statement. Khalid on Friday said experts would sweep the busy airport terminal where the attack took place for traces of the toxin as well as other locations the women had visited. "We are investigating how (the VX) entered the country," he told reporters. However he added that "if the amount of the chemical brought in was small, it would be difficult for us to detect". A leading regional security expert told AFP it would not have been difficult to get VX into Malaysia in a diplomatic pouch, which would not be subject to regular customs checks. North Korea has previously used the pouches "to smuggle items including contraband and items that would be subjected to scrutiny if regular travel channels were used", said Rohan Gunaratna, the head of the Singapore-based International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research. Detectives are holding three people -- women from Indonesia and Vietnam, and a North Korean man -- but want to speak to seven others, four of whom are believed to have fled to Pyongyang. One man wanted for questioning, who is believed to be still in Malaysia, is senior North Korean embassy official Hyon Kwang Song. Police have acknowledged that his diplomatic status prevents them from questioning him unless he surrenders himself. North Korea, which has not acknowledged the dead man's identity, has vehemently protested at the investigation, saying Malaysia is in cahoots with its enemies. Its ambassador Kang Chol has said Pyongyang "cannot trust" the Malaysian police to prosecute their probe fairly. He was told Friday to shut up or face the prospect of being kicked out of the country. "The ambassador has been informed of the process involved (in the police investigation) but he continues to be delusional and spew lies and accusations against the government of Malaysia," Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said. A senior Malaysian government official said Kang had been shown a "yellow card", adding: "If he repeats the baseless allegations, he will be expelled." The only known function of VX is as a chemical warfare agent and the US government's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describes it as the "most potent" of all nerve agents. VX was used by Japan's Aum cult in the 1994 murder of an office worker in Osaka, and in the attempted murder of two other people.


News Article | August 26, 2016
Site: cen.acs.org

Syrian troops and Islamic State militants carried out chemical weapon attacks in the war-torn country during 2014 and 2015, say the United Nations and a global chemical weapons watchdog group. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air force was responsible for at least two chlorine gas attacks against opposition-controlled towns in April 2014 and September 2015, say the UN and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The determination follows a year-long joint probe by the two groups. “It is now impossible to deny that the Syrian regime has repeatedly used industrial chlorine as a weapon against its own people,” says White House National Security Council spokesman Ned Price. Chlorine’s use as a weapon is prohibited under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, an international treaty that Syria joined in 2013. That year, Syria agreed to dismantle and destroy its stockpile of chemical weapons. In addition, the UN-OPCW team concludes that the Islamic State was “the only entity with the ability, capability, motive, and the means to use sulfur mustard” in Aleppo on Aug. 21, 2015. Also known as mustard gas, this material too is banned as a chemical warfare agent under the international accord. The UN-OPCW team says that since December 2015, it received more than 130 new reports of chemical weapons use in Syria. It says 41 claim the use of chlorine, 13 sarin, 12 mustard gas, and four VX nerve gas, and 61 of the allegations involve other toxic chemicals. The 15-member UN Security Council is due to discuss the report the week of Aug. 29. It will debate potential responses that could range from a statement of condemnation to referral to the International Criminal Court or additional sanctions.


News Article | February 24, 2017
Site: www.newscientist.com

Malaysian authorities announced today that they have identified VX nerve gas on the face and eyes of Kim Jong Nam, the exiled half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Kim Jon-nam was killed in the Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur on 13 February. Chemical weapons experts are mystified. “I have more questions than answers at this point,” says Richard Guthrie, formerly of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. VX is the most toxic substance known – 10 milligrams of the oily liquid on your skin, less than a drop, is lethal. But Kim took some time to show any symptoms, while the poison was handled by unprotected assailants, and didn’t contaminate other people. The use of the chemical, if confirmed, narrows the list of suspects, however, to someone who has or can make a small amount of VX. It isn’t hard to make, but the precursor chemicals are tightly controlled. North Korea, suspected of organising the killing, is widely thought to have chemical weapons. The International Crisis Group think tank estimates that the state stockpiles 2,500-5,000 tons, including nerve agents such as VX. North Korea helped Syria build its chemical weapons stockpile, which included VX. It is one of only four countries not in the treaty banning chemical weapons. VX has been used for assassination before, notably by the Japanese terrorist group Aum Shinrikyo, which made a small quantity and spritzed it onto the skin of victims using syringes. That is what makes Kim’s case so strange. VX is called a “nerve agent” because it inhibits the acetyl cholinesterase enzyme which breaks down acetylcholine, the chemical that transmits the signal to contract from nerves to muscles. If acetylcholine does not break down, muscles stay helplessly contracted, and victims die of paralysed breathing. They also go into convulsions, froth at the mouth, turn blue and display other tell-tale symptoms. Malaysian police have said two women ambushed Kim in the Kuala Lumpur airport and wiped something on his face. Kim himself is said to have reported liquid smeared on his face that burned his eyes, when he went to the airport medical station for help. CCTV footage shows a woman doing just that. But it then shows Kim walking apparently steadily to solicit help for several minutes, with none of the usual symptoms such as spasms or foaming at the mouth. The attacker was handling a cloth with no apparent protection, not wielding a syringe. The women are then said to have run to a washroom to wash their hands, where one vomited. Both are consistent with VX. But nothing else seems to have happened to them, even though they were apprehended soon after. “Any splash of a tiny droplet anywhere on her body would have resulted in some symptoms,” says chemical weapons expert Jean-Pascal Zanders . “She was jailed, but nothing like that was reported.” The attackers might have been pre-treated with atropine, a drug that blocks the effects of VX. But the medical staff who handled Kim in the ambulance where he later died – with convulsions, which is consistent with VX but also other poisons – would not have been pre-treated. They should have been contaminated, which is common in incidents involving such chemicals, but are not known to have reported any VX symptoms. The chemical might have been enclosed in capsules that only released VX after being smeared on Kim’s face – but again medics should have been affected. Moreover, if it was VX, the airport concourse should have been decontaminated, says Zanders. But Malaysian police told reporters on Friday that the concourse is only being cleaned now. It is also possible that North Korea’s VX is losing its punch. It is thought to have been synthesised some years ago using precursors smuggled from abroad. Tighter controls on those chemicals may have prevented stocks from being replaced, and VX has a limited shelf life. Iraq’s VX, found by UN inspectors after the 1991 Gulf War, degraded rapidly in storage. To be certain, says Zanders, samples from Kim’s remains should be sent to a lab certified by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons which enforces the chemical weapons treaty: there is one in neighbouring Singapore.


Hupaylo D.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
ACS Symposium Series | Year: 2016

The principles of good science are also the foundation of good international relations, including thorough knowledge of the subject, objective analysis, honesty, good communication, and openness to new ideas. And we know that the world as a whole benefits from sharing scientific achievement, when it is used for the right purposes. Working for an international treaty organization is one way to use science skills while exploring a multitude of cultures and working toward more ethical use of science and technology. From my beginning in a small rural town in the U.S. to working with an international organization made up of 190 countries, a background in chemical engineering has provided skills to aid in assuring that chemistry is used for peaceful purposes, not weapons of war, so that our neighbors and children live in a better world. Most of us are aware of the value of collaboration in scientific discovery and the increased value of bringing together different disciplines of science. Similarly, using scientific principles when bringing together scholars in politics, science, and strategy, is helpful when planning the structure of a long term global community. Cross-discipline studies, cross-continent exposure, and cross-cultural understanding can synergize science as well as politics. It begins with a vision and becomes a reality.


A standard method used by inspection teams of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) for preparation of aqueous samples requires several extraction and derivatization steps. This results in tedious and time consuming on-site analysis. A simple thermal desorption-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (TD-GC-MS) method was developed to analyse for a broad range of degradation products, impurities and precursors of chemical warfare agents (CWA) in water solutions and wet or dry organic liquid samples. The method is fast, sensitive, requires only microliter volumes of sample and enables the simultaneous determination of a wide range of compounds with widely differing polarity, volatility and reactivity. The applicability of the method was demonstrated by successful analysis of five OPCW Official Proficiency Test samples. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.


Terzic O.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons | Swahn I.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons | Cretu G.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons | Palit M.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons | Mallard G.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Journal of Chromatography A | Year: 2012

A sensitive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) based analytical method was developed for detection of the chemical warfare agents (CWA) and related compounds in air/vapor samples. The method uses a Tenax TA packed GC liner as an air/vapor sampling tube and Programmable Temperature-Vaporization (PTV) GC inlet as the thermal desorber. This approach eliminates secondary focusing step and allows transfer of desorbed analytes as sharp bands directly to the head of GC column. Use of a Peltier element for rapid cooling eliminates need for an external coolant. Minimal logistic and hardware needs make the method relatively inexpensive and especially suitable for a mobile laboratory. The limits of detection (LODs) of 0.8-2.9. ng on tube for selected nerve and blister agents were achieved in the full scan MS mode. Simple derivatization method applied for detection of Lewisites 1 and 2 did not affect simultaneous analysis of other agents. The method was extensively evaluated with authentic CWA during the field trainings of the inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The environmental area and personal samples were collected for a semi-quantitative determination of averaged airborne CWA concentration levels. © 2012 Elsevier B.V..


Terzic O.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons | Bartenbach S.,Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons | de Voogt P.,University of Amsterdam | de Voogt P.,KWR Watercycle Research Institute
Journal of Chromatography A | Year: 2013

A rapid, sensitive and robust method for determining the chemical warfare agents Lewisites and their hydrolysis products in aqueous and multiphase sample matrices has been developed as an extension of the previous work (Terzic, 2010 [32]). In the new method, the acidification of the sample and use of 1-butanethiol derivatisation instead of trimethylsilylation significantly improved both, qualitative and quantitative aspects of targeted analysis of Lewisite species. The limit of detection was ≤100. ng/ml in full scan MS, with sample volume of 10. μl only. The whole sample preparation procedure took 9. min, while the gas chromatography (GC)-mass spectrometry (MS) analysis cycle was under 22. min. The method deals efficiently with the multiphase sample matrices offering a fast and simple alternative to the conventional approach of liquid-liquid extraction combined with derivatisation. Multiphase sample matrices can be encountered or formed when preparing environmental, industrial, waste or decontamination waste samples for a GC-MS analysis. The applicability and robustness of the method were demonstrated by the successful analysis of 11 years old OPCW Official Proficiency Test sample and a triphase liquid sample. The same equipment set-up, tubes and derivatising agent have been used for collection, preparation and analysis of Lewisites in air samples (Terzic et al., 2012 [35]). The minimal logistic requirements, ease of operation, versatility and other features aforementioned, make this method an excellent choice for an environmental or forensic field laboratory. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.


PubMed | Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons
Type: | Journal: Journal of chromatography. A | Year: 2012

A sensitive gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) based analytical method was developed for detection of the chemical warfare agents (CWA) and related compounds in air/vapor samples. The method uses a Tenax TA packed GC liner as an air/vapor sampling tube and Programmable Temperature-Vaporization (PTV) GC inlet as the thermal desorber. This approach eliminates secondary focusing step and allows transfer of desorbed analytes as sharp bands directly to the head of GC column. Use of a Peltier element for rapid cooling eliminates need for an external coolant. Minimal logistic and hardware needs make the method relatively inexpensive and especially suitable for a mobile laboratory. The limits of detection (LODs) of 0.8-2.9ng on tube for selected nerve and blister agents were achieved in the full scan MS mode. Simple derivatization method applied for detection of Lewisites 1 and 2 did not affect simultaneous analysis of other agents. The method was extensively evaluated with authentic CWA during the field trainings of the inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW). The environmental area and personal samples were collected for a semi-quantitative determination of averaged airborne CWA concentration levels.

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