Polyoxoniobates able to decontaminate chemical agents

Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) found that compounds called polyoxoniobates can degrade and decontaminate nerve agents like sarin gas, according to a study recently published in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry.

While some other compounds can decontaminate nerve gases, most of them are organic, unstable and degraded by sunlight. Others are inorganic and more stable, but they cannot be used on surfaces or fabrics.

Polyoxoniobates are inorganic, do not degrade in normal environmental conditions and dissolve easily. The properties of the compounds may make them ideal for protective masks, suits or other clothing.

"This is a fundamental new understanding of what these compounds can do," May Nyman, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the OSU College of Science, said. "As stable, inorganic compounds they have an important potential to decontaminate and protect against these deadly nerve gases."

Polyoxoniobates have been known of since the mid-1900s, but a detailed investigation of the group's complex chemistry revealed new potential.

Organofluorophosphate compounds like sarin can be lethal at very small levels of exposure. When used for military purposes, the compounds are considered WMDs.

"In continued work we hope to incorporate the protective compounds onto surfaces or fabrics and explore their function," Nyman said. "They could form the basis for an improved type of gas mask or other protection. We would also need to test the material's ability to withstand very arid environments, extreme heat or other conditions."

OSU collaborated on the research with Sandia National Laboratories and the U.S. Army. The work was supported by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.