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Vol. 25 No. 4
July - August 2003

IUPAC Briefs Delegates to CWC Review Conference

by Edwin D. Becker

< CWC First Major review completed

On 1 May 2003, IUPAC completed a two-year project to advise the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) by briefing delegates to the First Review Conference of the Chemical Weapons Conventions in The Hague, Netherlands. The presentation drew on findings from the IUPAC Workshop on Impact of Scientific Advances on the Chemical Weapons Convention, held in Bergen, Norway, in July 2002.

Chris Murphy presenting the IUPAC report to the Open Forum of Non-Governmental Organizations, 1 May 2003

Dr. Christopher K. Murphy (U.S. National Research Council), who had served as coordinator of the IUPAC workshop, made the presentation. The IUPAC briefing highlighted four key issues:

1. Technical Challenges to the CWC. New synthetic methods (including biosynthesis) provide novel routes to toxic chemicals that were not envisioned when the CWC was negotiated over a decade ago. In addition, globalization of the chemical industry has resulted in an increased number of modest size batch facilities in many countries that could be used for illicit purposes. Future developments in using database mining to search for toxic effects in new chemicals and introduction of microreactors, which have little resemblance to normal chemical plants, pose additional risks. Ongoing efforts by the industry to mandate responsible handling of toxic substances may alleviate these risks, but IUPAC pointed to the need for the OPCW Technical Secretariat to remain abreast of current developments in order to recognize the potential for misuse during inspection of worldwide chemical production facilities.


IUPAC urged that the Technical Secretariat be equipped with smaller, lighter, and more portable instruments


2. Advances in Analytical Techniques. Counterbalancing the challenges posed by improved synthetic methods are advances in analytical chemistry that provide more sensitive ways to detect small amounts of toxic substances. IUPAC urged that the Technical Secretariat be equipped with smaller, lighter, and more portable instruments, such as GC/MS (gas chromatograph/ mass spectrometer), which are currently available, and to acquire newer instruments that do not require sampling (e.g., portable isotopic neutron spectrometers). The workshop also identified trends in analytical methods that will provide future instrumental methods, such as "lab on a chip" technology and immunoassays. IUPAC noted that with continually improving instrumental sensitivity, agreement is needed on a practical "zero" to indicate absence of a substance.

3. Technical Capability of the Secretariat. Continuing professional development of the Technical Secretariat is essential to increase awareness of new chemicals and production techniques, to take advantage of advances in analytical methods, and to make intelligent investments in new equipment. IUPAC urged OPCW to provide adequate resources to ensure that the Secretariat retains and enhances is technical capabilities. Regular seminars and training sessions are needed.

4. Education and Outreach. There is a need for greater worldwide understanding and appreciation of the CWC and its impact. IUPAC urged that the OPCW Secretariat and the National Authority in each of the 151 States Parties work together with national and international scientific organizations and with chemical industry associations to improve education and outreach to the worldwide scientific community. IUPAC and other scientific organizations should continue to assist OPCW and its States Parties by advising on continuing advances in relevant science and technology and by recommending experts who could be called on as needed.

IUPAC and other organizations emphasized that a principal strength of the treaty lies in the general purpose criterion. The CWC totally prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, or retention of chemical weapons. However, in order to promote the peaceful uses of chemicals, it defines chemical weapons, in part, as "toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under this Convention, as long as the types and quantities are consistent with such purposes." The italicized phrase focuses on the purposes of handling chemicals. It thus permits the CWC to be applied to any substances developed in the future, not only those chemicals that were specifically listed in the treaty, but prevents the treaty from being misapplied to chemicals, however toxic, intended for peaceful purposes.

The briefing, presented at the Peace Palace in The Hague, was part of an Open Forum designed to allow IUPAC and other non-governmental organizations to address issues outside the formal sessions of the Review Conference. Ambassador Rogelio Pfirter, director general, OPCW, opened the Forum by noting the importance of information about scientific and technical advances, the role of the international chemical industry, legal issues, and the status of destruction of world chemical weapons stockpiles. The Forum also included an in-depth discussion of the implications of the use of non-lethal chemical weapons, such as riot-control agents.

The IUPAC briefing followed a formal report to the director general of OPCW, which was later published in Pure and Applied Chemistry 74, 2323–2352 (2002). Director General Pfirter commented favorably on the report and briefing in conversations with IUPAC Vice President Leiv Sydnes and myself, who represented the Union at the Review Conference. He recognized the utility of continuing independent scientific advice to augment OPCW’s own Scientific Advisory Board and expressed hope that IUPAC would encourage dissemination of information about the CWC and the work of OPCW.


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