Chemical | Homeland Security Newswire

  • 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.

  • U.S. strikes Syrian airbase from which Assad forces launched sarin gas attack

    The United States has launched fifty-nine Tomahawk cruise missiles on a Syrian airfield from which Syrian military planes three days ago flew to carry out a sarin gas attack against Sunni civilians in the rebel-held Idlib province. More than eighty people, including thirteen children, were killed in the attack – and in a subsequent attack by the Syrian Air Force which destroyed the hospital to which many of the victims of the gas attack were taken. The cruise missiles were launched from the guided-missile destroyers USS Ross and Porter in the eastern Mediterranean. The United States has had military advisers and specialist on the ground in Syria for a while – it now has about 1,000 soldiers in Syria — advising the anti-regime rebels – especially the Syrian Kurds – but last night cruise missile attack marks the first time the United States has been involved as a combatant in the Syrian conflict.

  • Will the U.S. missile strike be the turning point in Syria’s shifting war?

    The United States has struck the Syrian airbase used to launch a suspected sarin gas attack against Khan Sheikhun that killed more than eighty civilians. The rebel commander whose district was hit by the suspected chemical weapon attack has said he hopes the strike will be a “turning point” in the war — but the long-running conflict has had many such apparently pivotal moments. A shift of U.S. foreign policy on Syria could have been the game-changer. But the U.S. airstrike is more likely to reinforce the balance of power between the combating factions rather than lead to a turning point.

  • Super sponge effectively removes toxins from lakes

    Mercury is very toxic and can cause long-term health damage, but removing it from water is challenging. To address this growing problem. Researchers have created a sponge that can absorb mercury from a polluted water source within seconds. The sponge converts the contamination into a non-toxic complex so it can be disposed of in a landfill after use. The sponge also kills bacterial and fungal microbes.

  • Reusable sponge soaks up oil, revolutionizes oil spill, diesel cleanup

    When the Deepwater Horizon drilling pipe blew out seven years ago, beginning the worst oil spill in U.S. history, those in charge of the recovery discovered a new wrinkle: the millions of gallons of oil bubbling from the sea floor weren’t all collecting on the surface where it could be skimmed or burned. Some of it was forming a plume and drifting through the ocean under the surface. Now, scientists have invented a new foam, called Oleo Sponge, that addresses this problem. The material not only easily absorbs oil from water, but is also reusable and can pull dispersed oil from the entire water column—not just the surface.

  • At least 58 killed in Syrian army’s chemical attack in rebel-held Idlib province

    At least fifty-eight people were killed in a chemical attack the Syrian military launched by against a rebel-held Syrian town in Idlib province Tuesday morning. Medics rushed scores of injured civilians to a hospital – but the Syrian air force then bombed the hospital, reducing it to rubble. This is the third reported chemical attack in Syria in just over a week. The previous two were reported in Hama province, in an area not far from Khan Sheikhoun, the site of Tuesday’s attack.

  • “Lab-on-a-glove” brings nerve-agent detection to a wearer's fingertips

    Organophosphate nerve agents, including sarin and VX, are highly toxic and can prevent the nervous system from working properly. Organophosphate pesticides are far less potent but work in a similar way and can cause illness in people who are exposed to them, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Detecting either type of these sets of compounds accurately and quickly could help improve both defense and food security measures.

  • Large dose of VX killed Kim Jong-nam in 15-20 minutes

    Kim Jong-nam, the half-brother of North Korea’s leader, was attacked with a large doze of VX which caused his death within 15-20 minutes after being poisoned by a nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur airport, the Malaysian  health minister, S. Subramaniam, said on Sunday. Some experts have suggested that the two women who attacked him might have each smeared Kim’s face with two different non-lethal elements of VX, which became deadly when mixed on his face.

  • Kim Jong-nam killed by VX nerve agent: Malaysian police

    Malaysian police have said the substance used in the killing of Kim Jong-nam was a VX nerve agent. North Korea, which is not a member of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), is in possession of a large stockpiles of chemical weapons — between 2,500 and 5,000 metric tons, with Sarin and VX making up the bulk of the arsenal. Experts say that the public nature of the killing, and the assailants’ disregard for the safety of bystanders, is comparable to the assassination in London of former Russian intelligence officer Alexander Litvinenko. Litvinenko, who became a fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, was killed on Putin’s orders by two agents of the FSB in London in November 2006. The agents placed small quantities of radioactive poison, polonium-210, in his tea.

  • Low-cost imaging system detects natural gas leaks in real time

    Researchers have developed an infrared imaging system that could one day offer low-cost, real-time detection of methane gas leaks in pipelines and at oil and gas facilities. Leaks of methane, the primary component of natural gas, can be costly and dangerous while also contributing to climate change as a greenhouse gas. Infrared device enables reliable monitoring under a range of environmental conditions.

  • Israel’s coming chemical weapons crisis

    One of the more iconic and sobering elements of Israeli reality were the gas masks distributed on the street or at post offices to every citizen after Saddam Hussein fired SCUD missiles at Israel during the 1991 Gulf War. They continued to be distributed until early 2014, when the Israeli government decided to end the practice in the wake of an international deal to disarm Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles. Now, nearly three years later, the issue has resurfaced as a direct result of the Syrian civil war—in particular, the threat from both Hezbollah and the Islamic State.

  • Syrian opposition: Israeli airstrike hit chemical weapons intended for Hezbollah

    An Israeli air raid on a depot controlled by the Syrian regime two weeks ago hit a supply of chemical weapons being transferred to the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah, a spokesperson for a Syrian opposition group said Sunday. Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman obliquely suggested last week that Israel was responsible for the strike and that the target had been Hezbollah-bound chemical weapons; other Israeli leaders have made it clear in public statements and conversations with foreign leaders that they will act to prevent Hezbollah from acquiring “game-changing” weapons or strengthening its positions on Israel’s borders.

  • Israeli defense minister suggests Hezbollah was smuggling chemical weapons

    Israel is working hard to keep chemical weapons out of the hands of the Iran-backed terror group Hezbollah, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman told a Knesset committee Thursday. His comments to the Knesset seemed to suggest that at least one of the strikes Israel carried out the same day at the Mazzeh military airport near Damascus was in order to stop Hezbollah from acquiring chemical weapons.