Chemical weapons have the potential to cause a tremendously large amount of casualties and have been deemed as inhumane for use in warfare. In 1992 after nearly 12 years of negotiations the Geneva Convention founded the Chemical Weapons Convention with the goal to disarm stock piles of warheads worldwide. Despite this, some nations around the world continue to increase their stockpiles of chemical agents and won’t hesitate to utilize these weapons against their enemies.
Fortunately, the same science that brought about the existence of chemical weapons may have found advanced applications of chemistry to help counter the threat. New research coming out of Oregon State University has found that using polyoxoniobate compounds can degrade nerve agents and may be ideal for utilization in masks, suits and clothes to protect those working with hazardous materials such as sarin gas. Part of the problem when cleaning up residue from chemical weapons is the ease in which many nerve agents can be transmitted to a person. Most nerve agents begin their effects on living organisms when inhaled or upon contact to skin, making them especially effective as a method of killing and likewise account for their inclusion as a weapon of mass destruction.
Although research in the past sought to find organic components to provide protection in suits for cleanup workers, many of these proved ineffective as they degraded quickly especially when influenced by factors such as sunlight and weather. Polyoxoniobates on the other hand are made from inorganic materials prove to be dramatically more stable in protective suits. Researchers from OSU in collaboration with several groups affiliated with the Department of Defense have conducted extensive studies to conclude that polyoxoniobates have the ability to neutralize chemical agents such as sarin gas as well as provide the durability needed to conduct cleanup operations in the harshest of weather conditions.
In addition to protective suits, separate research conducted by chemists working for branches of the U.S. military have found a greener variety of cleaning solutions to decontaminate sites where chemical weapons have been used. This research was published in an article that appeared in “Industrial Engineering and Chemistry Research” by George Wagner and some of his colleagues. Where chlorine was previously used, which can effectively neutralize chemical agents but has the potential to cause further environmental damage, peroxides have been found to prove more effective overall in the ingredients of the new formula Decon Green.
Further research published by Frank Raushel and David Barondeau in the ACS journal of Biochemistry has found that bacteria in soil can produce phosphotriesterase (PTE) which is a protein that can serve to decontaminate chemical weapons and pesticides. The detoxifying powers of PTE have proven successful in removing tabun and sarin agents in laboratory tests. Raushel describes the influence needed to produce the PTE enzymes followed the philosophies of natural selection and evolution to bioengineer the chemical components needed to decontaminate harmful chemical agents.Tags: chemical weapons, chemists