• Decrease in lead exposure in early childhood likely responsible for drop in crime rate

    Exposure to lead in the preschool years significantly increases the chance that children will be suspended or incarcerated during their school careers, according to new research. Conversely, a drop in exposure leads to less antisocial behavior and thus may well be a significant factor behind the drop in crime over the past few decades.

  • Oil spill puzzle solved: Oil-eating bacteria consumed the Deepwater Horizon oil plume

    The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 is one of the most studied spills in history, yet scientists have not agreed on the role of microbes in eating up the oil. Now, a research team has identified all of the principal oil-degrading bacteria as well as their mechanisms for chewing up the many different components that make up the released crude oil.

  • U.S. warns Assad over planned chemical attack

    The United States has charged that the Assad regime was preparing to launch another large-scale chemical weapons attack on Sunni Syrians — warning that the Syrian regime would “pay a heavy price” if it went ahead with the attack. The White House, in a statement released late Monday, said that the United States had noticed Syrian military preparations similar to those the Syrian military had undertaken ahead of the 4 April chemical attack which killed eighty-seven Syrian civilians.

  • Stacking countermeasures for layered defense against chemical, biological threats

    Just as we must protect computer systems against assaults in the form of viruses and trojans in the cyber world, we must protect our soldiers from a multitude of chemical and biological threats on the battlefield. No one countermeasure can mitigate every threat, which is why the Joint Science and Technology Office at the Defense Threat Reduction Agency is developing a portfolio of novel capabilities and medical countermeasures to protect our troops.

  • Detecting and preventing the use of chemical weapons

    Like detectives looking for clues, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have been working for nearly a decade on ways to identify the “fingerprints” of potential chemical threats. The ability to identify a particular agent and attribute its source is key to responding to and even preventing these threats.

  • New fabric coating could neutralize chemical weapons, save lives

    Chemical weapons are nightmarish. In a millisecond, they can kill hundreds, if not thousands. But, in a new study, scientists report that they have developed a way to adhere a lightweight coating onto fabrics that is capable of neutralizing a subclass of these toxins — those that are delivered through the skin. The life-saving technique could eventually be used to protect soldiers and emergency responders.

  • New evidence shows pattern of Assad regime’s use of nerve agents

    New evidence supports the conclusion that Syrian government forces have used nerve agents on at least four occasions in recent months: on 4 April 2017, in a chemical attack on Khan Sheikhoun that killed at least ninety-two people, and on three other occasions in December 2016 and March 2017, Human Rights Watch said in a report released yesterday. These attacks are part of a broader pattern of Syrian government forces’ use of chemical weapons. The attacks are widespread and systematic, and in some cases have been directed against the civilian population. As part of the evidence showing these attacks have become widespread and systematic, the detailed 48-page report identifies the three different systems being used by the Assad regime to deliver chemical weapons.

  • France: We have proof Assad ordered chemical attack on Khan Sheikhun

    Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, said Wednesday that France’s intelligence services have evidence that the Syrian government carried out the chemical weapons attack on a Sunni village earlier this month. The Syrian military’s attack on Khan Sheikhun killed eighty-six. British and Turkish scientists, examining injured victims and performing autopsies on those killed, found evidence of both sarin - a nerve gas - and chlorine.

  • Syrian defector: Assad still has hundreds of tons of chemical weapons stockpiled

    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad circumvented a 2013 deal to dismantle his chemical weapons stockpile by failing to declare the full extent of his arsenal, Syria’s former chemical weapons research chief. Brigadier-General Zaher al-Sakat, who served as the head of chemical warfare in a top Syrian military unit before defecting in 2013, said that Assad had not declared large amounts of sarin and its precursor chemicals.

  • Soil-based scrubber turns deadly chemicals into harmless dirt

    A DARPA program that is developing a field-deployable system for onsite neutralization of bulk stores of chemical warfare agents (CWA) has successfully demonstrated a novel waterless soil-scrubbing technology that safely neutralized toxic chemicals simulating sarin, soman, and mustard agents. The technology demonstrated greater than 99.9999 percent removal of the simulants, without creating any hazardous waste by-products.

  • WH report: The Assad regime's use of chemical weapons on 4 April 2017

    The White House on Tuesday released a 4-page report, prepared by the National Security Council, which contains declassified U.S. intelligence on the 4 April chemical weapons attack in Syria. The document calls Russia’s claim that the source of the gas was a rebels’ storage facility a “false narrative,” accusing Russia of “shielding” a client state which has used weapons of mass destruction.

  • By insisting Assad must go, the West has prolonged the Syrian conflict

    The most enthusiastic Western advocates of removing Assad form a liberal tendency and have been arguing for some form of intervention in Syria ever since the war began in earnest. They are opposed by more realist voices, who exhort them to remember the lessons of Iraq before getting militarily involved. Those on this side point to Syria’s fractured and often radical opposition, the regime’s formidable and battle-hardened forces, and the risks of starting a proxy conflict between the world’s great powers. In combination, these two tendencies have landed United States and United Kingdom foreign policy in an awkward gap between ends and means: Assad must go, but the military means required to remove him are off limits. It feels good to demand that a brutal dictator should no longer be allowed to rule, but insisting on it while failing to back it up with action has helped to prolong unimaginable suffering. Assad is clearly despicable, but the only atrocities worse than those his government has already committed are those yet to come. There are two ways to avert them: either Assad is deposed, probably via U.S.-led military intervention, or some political accord is struck to allow him to stay in exchange for a permanent ceasefire.

  • Medical evidence confirms sarin gas was used in Syria chemical attack

    Turkey’s health minister said that traces of sarin gas have been detected in blood and urine samples from victims injured in the town of Khan Sheikhun in Syria on 4 April, offering “concrete evidence” of its use in the attack. Isopropyl methylphosphonic acid, a chemical which sarin degrades into, was found in the blood and urine samples taken from the patients who arrived in Turkey. Many of the victims of last week’s attack were taken to Turkey for treatment because the Assad regime and Russia, as part of their war strategy, have destroyed many of the medical facilities in the Sunni areas of Syria.

  • Enzymes versus nerve agents: Designing antidotes for chemical weapons

    Nerve agents, a class of synthetic phosphorous-containing compounds, are among the most toxic substances known. Brief exposure to the most potent variants can lead to death within minutes. Once nerve agents enter the body, they irreversibly inhibit a vitally important enzyme called acetylcholinesterase. Its normal job within the nervous system is to help brain and muscle communicate. When a nerve agent shuts down this enzyme, classes of neurons throughout the central and peripheral nervous systems quickly get overstimulated, leading to profuse sweating, convulsions and an excruciating death by asphyxiation. There is a path to mitigate the danger of chemical weapons. This route lies within the domains of science – the very same science that produced chemical weapons in the first place. Researchers in the United States and around the world are developing the tools needed to quickly and safely destroy nerve agents – both in storage facilities and in the human body. There are promising advances, but no enzyme yet exists which is efficient enough for lifesaving use in people. It is worth keeping in mind the awesome and often complex power of science, however: We may be only a few years away from developing the kind of therapeutics that would make chemical weapons a worry of the past.

  • The Assad regime’s chemical-weapons kill chain

    “There’s a long list of Syrian officials with blood on their hands — but the culpability goes all the way to the top,” Gregory Koblentz writes in one of the more important analyses of the Assad regime’s strategic use of chemical weapons (“Syria’s Chemical Weapons Kill Chain,” Foreign Policy, 7 April 2017). Koblentz, the author of Living Weapons: Biological Warfare and International Security, explains that the Syrian chain of command for chemical weapons is composed of four tiers: the senior leadership, which authorizes the use of these weapons and provides strategic guidance; the chemists, who produce, transport, and prepare the chemical weapons for use; the coordinators, who provide intelligence on targets and integrate chemical weapons with conventional military operations; and the triggermen, who deliver the weapons to their targets. “Together, these individuals and organizations form a chemical-weapons kill chain,” Koblentz writes.