Below the headlines: CBW matters (19)

(A weekly digest from the internet on chemical and biological warfare issues. Emphasis is on incidents and perspectives, but inclusion of an item does not equal endorsement or agreement with the contents. This issue covers items collected between 19 – 25 June 2017.)

CBW disarmament

  • Blue Grass Army Depot one of state’s largest military installations (Kentucky Today, 19 June 2017): Established in 1941, this military installation, covering 14,594 acres, is the state’s third largest. The facility employs over 700 people (60 percent of whom are veterans) and adds $225 million in economic value to Kentucky. Blue Grass Army Depot fulfills a number of critical missions for the U.S. Army and the Department of Defense. Contained within the Blue Grass Army Depot is the Blue Grass Chemical Activity, which ensures the safe and secure storage of the installation’s chemical weapons stockpile. The chemical weapons stockpile is housed in 49 earth covered, concrete igloos on 250 acres within the larger Depot. In 1997 the United States signed and ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, agreeing to eliminate all of its chemical weapons and former production facilities. The key mission of the Blue Grass Chemical Activity section stems from that treaty, namely, the safe storage of the chemical stockpile until demilitarization (safe destruction) is complete.
  • U.S. Department of State Hosts Forum on Reinforcing the Global Norm Against Chemical Weapons (Office of the Spokesperson, 20 June 2017): On June 20, the U.S. Department of State hosted a high-level forum entitled, “The Chemical Weapons Convention 1997-2017: Progress, Challenges, and Reinforcing the Global Norm against Chemical Weapons.” Since its entry into force 20 years ago, the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC)—with 192 States Parties— has verified the destruction of approximately 95 percent of all declared chemical weapons stockpiles, and thereby made a significant contribution to making our world a safer place. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), the CWC’s implementing body, has facilitated the destruction of chemical weapons in Albania, China, Iraq, Libya, Russia, Syria, and the United States – among others. Nonetheless, the international community’s work is far from done, and serious challenges remain.
  • Dugway Under Scrutiny Again Over Handling of Deadly Toxins (Richard Sisk, 22 June 2017): The Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah, which figured in a major scandal on the shipment of live anthrax, has come under scrutiny again in the handling and accounting of deadly toxins such as Sarin nerve agent. In a report last week titled “The Army Needs to Improve Controls Over Chemical Surety Materials,” the office of the Defense Department’s Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine found that Dugway officials failed to give immediate notice of an accounting discrepancy that showed a 1.5 milliliter shortage of Sarin.
  • Thousands still to go but 46,000 abandoned Japanese chemical arms destroyed in China to date (JIJI, 23 June 2017): Some 56,000 chemical weapons abandoned by Imperial Japanese forces during and after World War II have been found at more than 90 places in China, and about 46,000 of them have been confirmed destroyed, according to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
  • OPCW Director-General addresses US defense officials during visit to United States (HPN News Desk, 23 June 2017): Ahmet Üzümcü, Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), recently gave a speech to key U.S. State Department officials in a commemorative event to mark the Chemical Weapons Convention’s (CWC) 20th anniversary during his visit to the United States. Prior to his address, Üzümcü met with key U.S. defense officials, including U.S. National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, and Acting Assistant Secretary of State Anita Friedt, where Üzümcü discussed ongoing priorities for the OPCW and provided an update into the organization’s investigation into reported chemical weapons use by the Syrian regime in April.

CBW threats

  • The North Korea Instability Project: A New Approach to Eliminating North Korean Weapons of Mass Destruction Is Needed (38 North, 20 June 2017): Due to the expanding size of the North Korean WMD arsenal, combined with a greater appreciation of the role that China might play in various contingencies, this paper suggests that the DoD’s old approach to WMD-elimination is flawed, and, should it ever be implemented, would likely fail. (Full report)
  • Bioviolence: A Very Brief History (Matt Watson, 20 June 2017): This past week, two of my colleagues—Crystal Watson and Gigi Kwik Gronvall—and I were honored to participate in SB7.0, the preeminent international meeting of the synthetic biology community. Synthetic biology seeks to apply engineering principles to the squishy, often chaotic world of biology (read Gigi’s book for a deeper dive). Our role at SB7.0 was to convene an international group of graduate students and early career scientists from the ‘synbio’ and biosecurity communities to jointly consider how to ensure that advanced biotechnologies are applied solely for the benefit of mankind. As part of the program, this group of fellows attended a series of panel discussions and presentations on the past, present, and future of biosecurity. At one of those discussions I gave the following remarks on the history of bioviolence—a term I prefer to the more common and specific “bioterrorism” and “biowarfare”.
  • Sea of sarin: North Korea’s chemical deterrent (Reid Kirby, 21 June 2017): North Korea periodically comes into the news as it advances its nuclear and ballistic missile ambitions and continues to employ rhetoric about destroying its enemies. With the Korean Peninsula technically still at war, a growing concern today is that at some point North Korea will acquire the capability to launch a nuclear-armed ballistic missile against the United States or one of its allies. Counterproliferation efforts on the peninsula have had a frustrating history.

Syria

  • Macron’s Threat of Reprisals and the Jus ad Bellum (Monica Hakimi, 2 June 2017): A few days ago, French President Macron reportedly said that the use of chemical weapons in Syria would cross a “red line” for France and result in reprisals. Macron’s statement comes less than two months after the United States conducted airstrikes against Syria for its use of chemical weapons. The vast majority of states that spoke about the U.S. operation supported or were non-committal about it. Very few states condemned it as unlawful. By contrast, most commentators contended that the operation was unlawful. (See the blog posts collected here.) The operation was inconsistent with the longstanding interpretation of Article 2(4) of the UN Charter and not covered by either of the Charter exceptions. Moreover, though there is an ongoing debate about whether the jus ad bellum contains a third exception for humanitarian interventions, the majority view is that it does not. The reason for this view is that, even when states (as a group) appear to condone particular operations that might be characterized as unilateral humanitarian interventions, states decline to articulate the opinio juris that is necessary to establish a new, generally applicable exception to Article 2(4). And in any event, the U.S. operation in April seemed more like a reprisal than like a humanitarian intervention.
  • France Has No Evidence of Chemical Weapons’ Usage (Sophie Mangal, 23 June 2017): The French president Emmanuel Macron, in an interview with El Pais (22 June 2017), said that the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad from power is no longer a priority in resolving the Syrian crisis. During the interview, Makron criticized Barack Obama for not keeping promises. Namely, that the former U.S. President had declared a tough response in case Assad would cross the so-called Red Line. “If the evidence of the use of chemical weapons arose,… and we knew who used it and where this weapon came from, France will respond immediately by carrying out airstrikes,” Macron said.
  • Trump‘s Red Line (Seymour M. Hersh, 24 June 2017): On April 6, United States President Donald Trump authorized an early morning Tomahawk missile strike on Shayrat Air Base in central Syria in retaliation for what he said was a deadly nerve agent attack carried out by the Syrian government two days earlier in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun. Trump issued the order despite having been warned by the U.S. intelligence community that it had found no evidence that the Syrians had used a chemical weapon.
  • Will Get Fooled Again – Seymour Hersh, Welt, and the Khan Sheikhoun Chemical Attack (Eliot Higgins, 25 June 2017): On June 25th 2017 the German newspaper, Welt, published the latest piece by Seymour Hersh, countering the “mainstream” narrative around the April 4th 2017 Khan Sheikhoun chemical attack in Syria. The attack, where Sarin was allegedly used against the local population, dropped in a bomb by the Syrian Air Force, resulted in President Trump taking the decision to launch cruise missiles at a Syrian airbase. As with his other recent articles, Hersh presented another version of events, claiming the established narrative was wrong. And, as with those other recent articles, Hersh based his case on a tiny number of anonymous sources, presented no other evidence to support his case, and ignored or dismissed evidence that countered the alternative narrative he was trying to build.

Human experiments

  • VA Secretary: I believe World War II vets’ claims of mustard gas exposure (Chuck Raasch, 20 June 2017): Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Tuesday that he believes veterans who say they were harmed by mustard gas exposure during World War II but have had claims denied by the VA, and that he will work with Sen. Claire McCaskill on a remedy.
  • VA Secretary Believes WWII Vets’ Claims of Mustard Gas Exposure (Chuck Raasch, 21 Jun 2017): Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin said Tuesday that he believes veterans who say they were harmed by mustard gas exposure during World War II but have had claims denied by the VA, and that he will work with Sen. Claire McCaskill on a remedy.
  • McCaskill ‘making progress’ on bill to help WWII veterans exposed to mustard gas (Bryan Lowry, 21 June 2017): U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill is optimistic her bill to help World War II veterans exposed to mustard gas will move forward now that it has the support of President Donald Trump’s Veterans Affairs secretary. McCaskill’s bill will enable veterans who say they were exposed to mustard gas during World War II military experiments to recover the benefits owed to them, despite the VA previously denying their health claims.

Other CBW-related incidents

  • China bans more synthetic opioids blamed for U.S. drug deaths (Associated Press, 19 June 2017): China said Monday it would ban a designer drug called U-47700 and three others, following U.S. pressure to do more to control synthetic opioids blamed for fast-rising overdose deaths in the United States.
  • How war brought cholera and polio back to the Middle East (Louisa Loveluck, 21 June 2017): As war ravages public health systems in Yemen and Syria, doctors are treating epidemics and diseases they once thought were things of the past. In Yemen, it is cholera, a bacterial disease spreading so fast, about 160,000 people have been fallen sick since April. In Syria, it is polio, almost two decades after government efforts to eradicate the illness were hailed as a textbook example of a good practice.
  • First Line responds to fentanyl epidemic with decon solution (Zoe Seroky, 21 June 2017): The data from an undisclosed agency shows Dahlgren Decon yields a greater than 99% neutralization of fentanyl in less than five minutes. This comes at a crucial time when there is no sign of the opioid addiction and overdose crisis slowing down. In fact, earlier this month, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration issued a warning to the public and law enforcement nationwide about the health and safety risks of fentanyl. Dahlgren Decon, manufactured by First Line Technology through an exclusive technology licensing agreement with the Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD), is a three-part decontaminant solution that immediately decontaminates chemical and biological warfare agents, and now proven to be effective against fentanyl.
  • Mersey Gateway teams were warned of mustard gas and uranium risk during bridge construction (Oliver Clay, 22 June 2017): Mersey Gateway documents have revealed bridge planners had to contend with toxic threats in the pollution-scarred landscape ranging from mustard gas and uranium to asbestos and cyanide.
  • Italy acid attack model Gessica Notaro returns to work (BBC, 24 June 2017): A former Miss Italy finalist has returned to work as a sea lion trainer, five months after being severely disfigured by acid thrown in her face.

History

  • History Matters: Dr. William Todd met smallpox epidemic with vaccination initiative but never officially credited (Bill Waiser, 21 June 2017): Smallpox had a devastating impact on the indigenous population of the western interior. The contagion came from the south. An annual supply boat from St. Louis carried the disease up the Missouri River to Fort Union in June 1837. Indians frequenting the post were immediately infected, culminating weeks later in what one eyewitness described as “the greatest destruction possible.”
    The disease reached the Saskatchewan country by the early autumn of 1837. Dr Todd, then stationed at Fort Pelly in the Swan River district, was not sure from Indian reports whether he was dealing with smallpox. But instead of waiting for confirmation, he decided to use the new cowpox vaccine in the post’s medical supplies and treat the indigenous people in the Fort Pelly area. Todd also taught Indian headmen the procedure so that they could treat their followers, as well as sent fresh cowpox vaccine to other HBC posts to the west and north.

Dual Use research

  • Scientists create ‘mutant bird flu’ to prepare for possibility of deadly global pandemic (Katie Forster, 15 June 2017): Deadly strains of bird flu have so far largely been caught by people who work closely with poultry – but scientists fear the virus could mutate and cause the world’s next devastating pandemic if it begins to spread from human to human. In a bid to stay one step ahead of the disease and prepare for a potentially disastrous outbreak before it happens, researchers have created their own mutations in a lab that could allow the virus to infiltrate human lungs.
  • Trending Science: H5N1 mutations created to identify potential impact on humans (European Commission, CORDIS, 22 June 2017): Researchers working on H5N1 and its scope for mutation have modified the surface of the virus creating a version that could infiltrate human lungs.

CBW defence, protection and preparedness

  • Building Communication Capacity to Counter Infectious Disease Threats: Proceedings of a Workshop (National Academies, 16 June 2017): Building communication capacity is a critical piece of preparing for, detecting, and responding to infectious disease threats. Various organizations, including CDC and WHO, have provided guidance on developing frameworks, standards, protocols, and conceptual approaches to communicating critical information during infectious disease outbreaks. Furthermore, governments and nongovernmental organizations have developed and implemented plans to address the gaps in communication capacity during these situations. (Full report)
  • University of Nebraska reorganizes public health efforts to face future disease threats under central umbrella (Chris Galford, 19 June 2017): The University of Nebraska Medical Center is transforming and centralizing infectious disease response and biodefense research with the creation of the Global Center for Health Security. Such efforts are part of the brave new world of public health which, for years, has been plagued with concerns of viral outbreaks, infectious diseases and, in an environment increasingly stressed by the possibility of terrorism, a biological attack.
  • Anthrax: DoD Develops Biological Select Agents and Toxins Surrogate Solution (Global Biodefense, 21 June 2017): The Defense Biological Product Assurance Office (DBPAO), a component of the Joint Program Executive Office for Chemical and Biological Defense, has announced the development of a Biological Select Agents and Toxins (BSAT) surrogate solution that will mitigate the risks associated with shipment and use of Bacillus anthracis. In addition to risk mitigation for Department of Defense (DoD) stakeholders and the community at large, this product demonstrates DBPAO’s commitment to providing quality reagents to the DoD and to the biodefense community.
  • How plague attacks us – and how we should defend ourselves (Homeland Security Newswire, 22 June 2017): The plague that is believed to have caused the Black Death still occasionally ravages populations, albeit to a much smaller extent than before. Now we know more about how the bacteria attack us. But how does the plague bacterium attack human beings, and how does the body defend against its constantly evolving attacks? New research on the bacterium is yielding new answers.
  • Heating Up DoD’s Bioengineering Future (DVIDS, 22 June 2017): Synthetic biology is a growing necessity to develop new countermeasures for chemical and biological threats, but a DoD report highlighted gaps in “human capital,” revealing its lack of service members with sufficient knowledge of the subject. To integrate young service members into the emerging field, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency’s Chemical and Biological Technologies Department collaborated with U.S. military academies through their Service Academy Initiative.

Industry matters

  • Intranasal anthrax vaccine approved to advance into a pre-clinical toxicology study (Press Release, 19 June 2017): NanoBio Corporation today announced the progression of a novel intranasal anthrax vaccine into a pre-clinical IND-enabling toxicology study funded by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The vaccine combines NanoBio’s novel intranasal nanoemulsion (NE) adjuvant with recombinant protective antigen (rPA) for anthrax from Porton Biopharma Ltd (PBL). Following the pre-clinical toxicology study, the vaccine will progress to a Phase 1 clinical trial.
  • NanoBio And Porton Biopharma receive approval to advance Anthrax Vaccine (BioSpectrum Bureau, 20 June 2017): NanoBio Corporation, a US based biopharmaceutical company focused on developing and commercializing vaccines and anti-infective treatments announced the progression of a novel intranasal anthrax vaccine into a pre-clinical IND-enabling toxicology study funded by the U.S. National Institute of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). The advanced development of the vaccine candidate is the result of a modification to PBL’s existing NIAID contract, which totals more than $24 million throughout its eight-year term if all options are exercised. The modification, valued at $5.6 million, supports further research of the vaccine components and technologies that accelerate the immune responses for use in post-event settings following the intentional release of the Category A priority pathogen Bacillus anthracis.
  • Global Anthrax Vaccines Market 2017-2022 (Sumana Oza, 20 June 2017): Global Anthrax Vaccines market Report offers decisive insights into the overall Anthrax Vaccines industry along with the market dimensions and evaluation for the duration 2017 to 2022. The forenamed research study covers extensive analysis of various Anthrax Vaccines industry segments based on the type of applications, type of product Components and services, and different geographical regions.
  • Heat Stable Ricin Vaccine: Soligenix receives $2M in additional funding to advance development (Press Release, 21 June 2017): Soligenix, Inc. announced today that the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, has exercised an option for the evaluation of RiVax® to fund additional animal efficacy studies. The overall objectives of the contract are to advance the development of Soligenix’s thermostabilization technology, ThermoVax®, in combination with the Company’s ricin toxin vaccine, RiVax®, as a medical countermeasure to prevent the effects of ricin exposure. The exercised option for contract #HHSN272201400039C will provide Soligenix with approximately $2M in additional funding, bringing the total amount awarded to date under this contract to $18.7M.  If all contract options are exercised, the total award of up to $24.7 million will support the preclinical, manufacturing and clinical development activities necessary to advance heat stable RiVax® with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
  • Bavarian Nordic receives request for proposal notification for procurement of lyophilized smallpox vaccine (HPN News Desk, 21 June 2017): Bavarian Nordic recently announced that a request for proposal from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will be issued for the procurement of lyophilized Imvamune, a freeze dried version of the company’s smallpox vaccine. The vaccine is currently stockpiled for emergency use by the United States in the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile and is approved for full use in the European Union and Canada
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About JP Zanders

Jean Pascal Zanders (Belgium) has worked on questions of chemical and biological weapon (CBW) armament and disarmament since 1986. He was CBW Project Leader at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Director of the BioWeapons Prevention Project and Senior Research Fellow responsible for disarmament, arms control and non-proliferation questions at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. He now owns and runs The Trench.