Scientist formulate method to trace chemical weapons

A technique has been developed by researchers that allows the chemical fingerprint of such bioterror threats as mustard gas, nerve agents like VX and rat poison to be ascertained, has reported.

The chemical fingerprint will allow scientists to determine how the compounds were created, providing vital clues to law enforcement agencies in the search for chemical warfare criminals and aiding first responders in evidence gathering.

“If we already know this was a chemical attack using mustard gas, now we want to know who made it,” chemist Audrey Martin of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California told “We’re looking at the next step — where did this come from?”

The new research was presented March 22 in a poster session at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in San Francisco. The technique, which relies on the many routes of making a chemical, utilizes chemical by-products, impurities and unreacted ingredients that are by-products of those methods to provide clues of the chemical's creation.

Additionally, the signatures of the reaction conditions within the chemicals, including temperature and pressure, may be found within the final product.

The various chemical signatures for several compounds, including sarin gas and the toxic nerve agent VX, have been determined by the Lawrence Livermore team, which is documenting how the chemicals evolve over time so scientists can learn if the chemical is new or old.