Chemical Weapons Investigation, Pandemic Potential of Influenza, Defining Nuclear Terrorism

Topics in this issue of CBRNE Particles include ongoing analysis of the chemical weapons attack in Syria, the increasing pandemic potential of influenza, and the demise of the National Commission on Forensic Science.

In This Article


Why the Syrian Chemical Weapons Problem Is So Hard to Solve

The Trump administration is hoping that its cruise missile strikes will solve a problem that has defied years of efforts: the willingness of the Syrian leader, Bashar al-Assad, to use chemical weapons. Unable to retake that territory easily with conventional means, Syrian forces appear to have used chemical weapons both on and behind the front lines, simultaneously halting the opposition’s advance while devastating its supply lines and staging areas. It also forced rebels into concentrated areas where they could be killed in large numbers. NY Times >>

Soil Samples from Syria Chemical Attack Sent to Western Agencies

Rescue workers have gathered soil samples from the scene of a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria and sent them to western intelligence officials, who are seeking to determine precisely what nerve agent was used in one of the worst atrocities of the country’s six-year war. The US, Britain and France all said it was very likely that sarin was dropped on the town. The Guardian >>

Syrian Civil War: ‘At Least 58 Killed’ in Alleged Chemical Weapons Attack in Idlib

At least 58 people have been reported killed in what witnesses claim was a chemical weapons attack in northern Syria. Activists posted video online claiming to show the moment the bombs struck, alleging they were dropped by Syrian air force helicopters as clouds of smoke rose into the air. It came little over a week after another alleged chemical attack hit a hospital in the town of Latamneh, just 14 miles away. The Independent >>

U.S. Lays Out Case for Assad’s Culpability in Chemical Weapons Attack

White House officials say the U.S. intelligence community is confident that Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked his own people with chemical weapons on April 4 — and that an alternative explanation offered by Russia is an effort to deflect blame and “confuse the world community.” NPR >>

Why Children Face the Greatest Danger from Chemical Weapons

The effects of chemical weapons are more devastating for kids for a number of reasons. “Because kids are smaller, there’s a higher impact on a smaller body,” said Dr. Steven Hinrichs, director of the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. A smaller dose of a chemical agent can do more damage to their organs. If the agent is sarin gas, as groups like Doctors Without Borders are reporting, a victim’s lungs and airways can fill up with fluid, causing suffocation. Children would die faster than adults because a child has smaller airways and a smaller chest. NPR >>

Once Upon a Treaty…. 20 Moments of the Chemical Weapons Convention

These 20 moments demonstrate our progress in eliminating chemical weapons worldwide, our commitment to preventing their re-emergence, our faith in international cooperation, our pursuit of universal membership, our dedication to chemistry for peace, and our belief that together we can achieve a world free of chemical weapons. OPCW >>

Syria Conflict: The Spectre of Nerve Agents – Again

Use of nerve agents by the Assad government also would demonstrate that either the Syrian state was not honest in its declarations when it joined the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and OPCW, or that it has re-established both a supply chain and a manufacturing capability that it had formally renounced. The issue of where the precursor chemicals come from amidst sanctions is of concern. Chemical arms control appears a lost cause in the Syrian civil war, but also the international failure to enforce treaties damages arms control in the future. BBC News >>

Colorado Chemical Arms Waste May Be Trucked to Another State

The U.S. Army is considering trucking hazardous wastewater from a chemical weapons destruction plant in Colorado to another state because the plant isn’t yet fully operational. Incinerators in Texas and Arkansas are under consideration to destroy up to 250,000 gallons (946,000 liters) of wastewater from the Pueblo Chemical Depot, but officials couldn’t immediately provide the exact locations Thursday. US News >>

A Simple Device Designed to Detect Chemical Weapons

Existing nerve-agent detectors record changes induced by the presence of organophosphorus compounds in the electrical resistance of gels impregnated with this enzyme. Dr Wang’s trick is to miniaturize the process so that it fits on a glove. The Economist >>


H.R. 479, North Korea State Sponsor of Terrorism Designation Act of 2017

H.R. 479 would require the Department of State to determine whether to designate the government of North Korea as a state sponsor of terrorism and to submit that determination to the Congress. To make such a designation, the department would consider the involvement of the North Korean government in supporting terrorist acts and terrorist groups. Congressional Budget Office >>

New U.S. Sanctions Bill Delayed by Concern Over Iran Election

A bill to slap new sanctions on Iran has been delayed in the U.S. Senate due to concerns about Iran’s May presidential election, in which conservative hardliners hope to defeat moderate President Hassan Rouhani, U.S. lawmakers said on Tuesday. Reuters >>

Sessions Orders Justice Dept. to End Forensic Science Commission, Suspend Review Policy

Attorney General Jeff Sessions will end a Justice Department partnership with independent scientists to raise forensic science standards and has suspended an expanded review of FBI testimony across several techniques that have come under question, saying a new strategy will be set by an in-house team of law enforcement advisers. Washington Post >>


The Number of New Flu Viruses is Increasing, and Could Lead to a Pandemic

Around 100 years ago the world experienced the Spanish flu pandemic, and it took another 39 years for a novel influenza virus to emerge. It took a decade after that for the next one. Since 2011, however, we have seen seven novel and variant strains emerge. This is a very large increase compared to the past. The Conversation >>

Debugging the Details on Biological Warfare

The reason that “no documents ever turned up to support the claim” made by North Korea and China against the United States during the Korean War is that none exist, while both Soviet and Chinese documents that disproved it have been published. In 1989, 13 Soviet Central Committee documents were published by the Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars directly declaring the charge to be false. Washington Post >>

Can Pluristem Therapeutics Corner the Acute Radiation Syndrome Market?

Pluristem may deliver the ONLY drug specifically indicated to treat ARS. While Amgen and Sanofi have products that can treat symptoms of ARS, they are used off-label. BARDA has spent over $150 million to stockpile off-label treatments, opening the door wide open to an approved PSTI indicated treatment. Seeking Alpha >>

White Powder Envelope Delivered to Lawyer of Accused Suspicious Package Mailer

The lawyer for a woman accused of sending multiple suspicious packages received an envelope containing a white substance Thursday morning. The lawyer was quarantined and prevented from attending court Thursday morning. He said while it was an inconvenience, he was grateful for the response from emergency personnel. CKOM Saskatoon >>

Busan Residents Gather to Protest Installation of US Military’s JUPITR Program

The outcry from Busan residents is intensifying after the decision to install the US military’s JUPITR program, a defense strategy against biological and chemical weapons, at Pier 8 in the city’s port. The groups said USFK had “hired personnel specializing in biological and chemical experimentation, even though they claim not to be doing any experiments here using samples of things like anthrax bacteria.” The Hankyoreh >>


What Does “Nuclear Terrorism” Really Mean?

A dirty bomb wouldn’t immediately kill any more people than an ordinary explosive. It is a weapon ideally suited to terrorism, though, part of the very purpose of which is to sow fear. In fact, in the perverse psychology of terrorism, a mere claim that a bomb had spread radioactive material would have some of the same effect as a bomb that actually did so. That said, getting hold of the sort radioactive material needed to make a dirty bomb isn’t difficult; it has occasionally even been stolen by accident. Literally thousands of sites, in more than 100 countries, contain the kind of sources required, which have many uses in agriculture, industry, and medicine. Radioactive isotopes are commonly used, for example, to irradiate blood before transfusions and treat cancer tumors. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists >>

The Dirty Bomb Threat – Too Dangerous to Do Nothing

Detection technology is still catching up with the problem, and coordination among international, national, and local counterterrorism officials leaves much to be desired. Of course, despite recurring terrorist attacks in the Arab world and Northern Africa, Europe, and the United States, the odds are still low that terrorists will acquire radioactive materials. But the stakes—large-scale mass death and radiation poisoning—are so high that preventing dirty bomb proliferation should be a first priority. Foreign Affairs >>

Preventing a Dirty Bomb: Effective Alternative Technologies for Radiological Security

NTI has published a new informational brochure outlining the radiological security risks associated with cesium-137 blood irradiators used in hospitals around the world, and the steps that governments and the private sector can take to eliminate the threat completely. NTI >>

Saudi Arabia’s Nuclear Ambitions and Proliferation Risks

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has an uneasy relationship with Iran. The Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which went into effect in January 2016, has limited Iran’s sensitive nuclear program and subjected it to greater international monitoring. Many hoped that the JCPOA would also ease regional security tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, yet they have actually increased despite the deal. The JCPOA has also not eliminated the Kingdom’s desire for nuclear weapons capabilities and even nuclear weapons, but rather reduced the pressure on Saudi Arabia to match Iran’s nuclear weapons capabilities in the short term. Institute for Science and International Security >>


Bill Would Help Montana Veteran Exposed to Biothreats

U.S. Navy veteran John Olson takes 13 medications every day for his illnesses and ailments. He was aboard a tugboat south-west of Hawaii and exposed to biological and chemical weapons for testing in 1964 and 1965. Olsen was part of Project SHAD, the Shipboard Hazard and Defense program, a series of tests that ran from 1962 to 1974. KPAX Billings >>

Report: Better Study Needed to Determine Connection Between Illness and Burn Pits

A new federal report says the data from an existing registry of troops’ downrange exposure to burn pits cannot be used to establish a link with health problems they are now experiencing, making it difficult to prove they are entitled to special benefits. Currently, veterans who have been exposed to burn pits in Afghanistan and Iraq have to go through difficult and time-consuming processes to prove that their conditions are service-related. At stake are health care benefits, support for spouses and education benefits for children. Stars & Stripes >>

Nebraska: Retention of First Responders’ Health Insurance Amended, Advanced

Injured first responders could retain their health insurance coverage under a bill advanced from select file April 10. LB444, introduced by Fremont Sen. Lynne Walz, would prohibit cities and counties from canceling existing health insurance coverage for any law enforcement officer who suffers serious bodily injury as a result of an assault while in his or her official capacity. The bill also would cover injured sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, firefighters and mental health care providers. Unicameral Update >>

It’s Time to Start Focusing on Protecting Firefighters’ Health

“We don’t know the true scope of the problem because we don’t effectively record cancer diagnoses among firefighters. That’s why I introduced legislation with a bipartisan group of senators to establish a national cancer registry that would track the relationship between firefighters’ exposure to fumes and toxins and cancer. Our bill would mark an important step forward in helping protect firefighters’ health. The data collected would improve our understanding of the environmental risks our firefighters face and better inform prevention techniques. We’ll also take steps to make sure the registry’s being used properly by requiring administrators to regularly consult with public health experts and firefighters. And in addition to career firefighters, we’ll make sure volunteer firefighters are participating. That’s especially important in Minnesota where the vast majority—18,000 of 20,000—firefighters are volunteers.” Laker Pioneer >>


Determination of Nerve Agent Metabolites by Ultraviolet Femtosecond Laser Ionization Mass Spectrometry

The use of ultraviolet femtosecond laser ionization mass spectrometry in this study resulted in the formation of a molecular ion, even for compounds which contain a highly bulky functional group. The signal intensity was larger at 200 nm due to resonance-enhanced two-photon ionization. Analytical Chemistry >>

Application of Optical Techniques to Detect Chemical and Biological Agents

The authors demonstrate that laser-based optical techniques can enable continuous and quasi real-time monitoring of chemical agents in the air at medium-long distances. The capability of the LIDAR systems to detect chemical agents for the early warning phase and of the DIAL systems to identify at short-medium range certain agents for the decision-making phase has been demonstrated. Using the same approach (optical techniques for standoff detection) but changing the method (fluorescence), the authors assessed its potential for biological agent detection.  Master CBRNe >>

Imaging Gamma Rays to Help Decontaminate Fukushima

A novel camera for visualizing radioactive hot spots is being used to develop radioactivity maps for use in the decontamination of the site of the 2011 nuclear accident in Fukushima. The Electron Tracking Compton Camera (ETCC) can perform simultaneous measurement of brightness and spectrum of MeV gamma rays. Photonics Media >>

Detecting Nuclear Threats, Rogue Ships and Bad Actors

Could statistics help detect radioactive “dirty bombs” in big cities, drug-smuggling ships on the high seas and other threats? The odds are excellent, two Rutgers professors say. Min-ge Xie and Rong Chen helped devise statistical algorithms and models for enhancing the detection of nuclear and other radioactive material, such as in dynamite-based dirty bombs, in cities. Their statistical tools could also be used to uncover other threats, security problems and criminal activities. Rutgers >>


I Write Thrillers. My Research Showed Me How Easily Terrorists Can Strike Us.

I write thrillers for a living. For my latest novel, “Dead Man Switch,” I spent a lot of time researching the materials lying around the United States that terrorists could use to kill tens of thousands of people. I like to think my books are pretty tense, but they have nothing on reality: More than 15 years after 9/11, we have failed to take basic steps to address glaring threats that have already cost American lives. Washington Post >>

First Chemical Weapons Ban Was Strasbourg Agreement Against Poison Bullets in 1675

The use of toxins as a weapon has long been a feature of war, often in sieges. In Ancient Greece during the First Sacred War, around 590 BC, the Amphictyonic League of Delphi besieged the city of Kirrha, and used the hellebore plant – which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea – to poison the water supply. International Business Times >>

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