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A pledge to security. (Article).

These days, any news of chemical agents can send panic rolling across the airwaves into the lead story on the six o'clock news. Now is the time for chemical engineers, chemists and chemical technologists to come together to defend Canada against them.

Have you ever thought of a world where all chemical professionals -- all CIC members -- can come to work together towards one common goal? Well, such a place exists and it is in the defence against chemical agents. From the first use of chlorine in WWI to the sad events of September 11th, the threat of chemical and biological (GB) agents unfortunately has been always present. Combined with this reality is another threat involving chemicals called toxic industrial chemicals or 'TICs', where chemical plants or storage facilities may be destroyed, resulting in massive contamination. How should we, chemical professionals, react to this? What are the challenges in the defence against these agents?

Being a chemical engineer working at the Directorate of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence (DNBCD) at National Defence Headquarters, I am constantly challenged with providing the best defence capability to the members of the Department of National Defence (DND). However my job is made that much easier as a result of being an active CSChE member and taking advantage of the resulting networking. Since my main responsibilities deal with the detection and identification of chemical agents and the co-ordination of DNBCD's R&D programme, these are the topics addressed here.

Chemical Agents

A chemical agent may be defined as a chemical substance intended for use in military operations to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate humans or animals through its physiological effects. Among the most commonly known agents is mustard gas, which was responsible for 70% of the chemical casualties in WWI and used again in the 1980s by Iraq against Iran. Today, chemical agents are grouped in accordance to their physiological effects, in the following fashion:

* Nerve. Lethal agents, they interfere with the transmission of nerve impulses. Examples are tabun, sarin, soman and cyclosarin;

* Blister (vesicant). Lethal agents, they cause tissue damage, skin blistering, respiratory tract tissue damage, and lung ulceration. Examples are sulphur mustard, nitrogen mustard, lewisite, and phosgene oxime;

* Blood. Lethal agents, they interfere with the transfer of oxygen in the blood. Examples are hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride and arsine;

* Choking. Lethal agents, they cause tissue damage, haemorrhaging, and lung fluid flooding. Examples are chlorine, phosgene and diphosgene;

* Vomiting. Non-lethal, they temporarily incapacitate by inducing vomiting. Examples are diphenylchloroarsine and adamsite;

* Incapacitating. Non-lethal, they tem porarily incapacitate by causing confusion, depression and hallucinations. An example is 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate (BZ); and

* Tear (riot control). Non-lethal and used mainly by police forces, they are designed to temporarily incapacitate. Examples are alpha-chloroacetophe none and o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS).

Toxic Industrial Chemicals

As previously mentioned, another threat related to chemical agents are toxic industrial chemicals (TICs). They may be defined as any toxic, corrosive, flammable or explosive chemical substance that is readily accessible and can be used to produce environmental (and to an extent, animal or human) damage. One could easily say that almost any chemical substance used or produced may become a TIC in the wrong hands. Furthermore, certain chemicals such as phosgene, can be both a chemical agent and a TIC. To decipher all of this, DND, in conjunction with other Canadian non-governmental agencies and its allies, is presently developing a list of chemicals that are most likely to be used as TICs.

Figure 1 illustrates how chemical threats are developed through a spectrum of activities. Occurrences of a natural origin are located on the left side of the chart, with an increasing involvement of human activities towards the right. At the right side is the deliberate use of chemicals to cause casualties and damage, otherwise known as chemical warfare. It can be seen from this figure that the boundaries between these activities are difficult to distinguish, a reality that chemical professionals should recognize.

Directorate of NBCD

The ultimate priority when working in a nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) environment has always been and shall remain the safeguarding and protection of the personnel. To meet this aim, DNBCD is divided in two sections, capability development and operations (Figure 2). The former is responsible for the development of defensive capabilities to enable effective survival and operation in a NBC environment. This is done by initially defining the requirement and developing it into a project, supported by an R&D program. To ensure that all NBC aspects are covered, the capability development section is divided into the following areas:

* Chemical agent detection and identification;

* Biological agent detection and identification;

* Radiological (nuclear) agent detection and identification;

* Command and control, which deals with the fusion of information technology systems in support of NBC operations;

* Force protection, which provides individual protection equipment (e.g. masks, suits, etc.) and collective protection (e.g. shelters); and

* Contamination control (e.g. decontaminating substances and systems).

Research & Development

Defining a requirement for research and development is not always obvious. DNBCD's approach to ease this process has been one where the question asked is "What do you want to do?" rather than "What piece of equipment do you want?" In order words, we are moving away from an 'equipment-centric' approach and adopting a 'capability-centric' or intent-driven one. To date, this concept has proven to be quite useful in best meeting the requirements and it allows for more flexible R&D.

Once the requirement is defined, the next step is to determine how to deliver the capability. This can be accomplished mainly via two routes, where R&D is constantly involved:

* Project management. This approach is the most common and involves the different steps of the defence management system, which are identification, options analysis, definition and implementation; and

* Technology demonstration program (TDP). If a technology is sufficiently mature and can provide tangible results within a short timeframe (less than five years), a capability may be delivered via this fashion.

Within DND, all R&D programmes are coordinated by an organization called Defence Research and Development Canada (DRDC). This organization acts as an R&D hub, ensuring that all requirements are met. Should there be case where this is not possible (e.g. a very specific expertise required), DRDC can reach outside the Department. DNBCD has recently explored this avenue with the National Research Council (NRC) in Ottawa, ON. It is noteworthy to mention that a search for expertise can be also accomplished via CIC networking.

As different technologies evolve at different rates, DNBCD's approach to R&D is to link activities to targeted timeframes or 'horizons'. Depending on the capability to deliver, R&D activities are placed in the appropriate horizon (Figure 3). To illustrate this concept, the R&D program relating to chemical agents is summarized in Table 4.


Much like the chicken and the egg relation -- R&D and technology are intricately linked and they can represent a real challenge. Present technology as it relates to chemical agents can support the following:

* Detection based on wet chemistry or ion mobility spectrometry (IMS);

* Detection of nerve, blister, blood and choking agents, which is relatively easy to perform; and

* Identification of agents needs improvement.

The real challenges will come in the future as the level of R&D maturity changes. The following are areas where DNBCD is now focusing its R&D program:

* Dealing with emerging agents (including TICs);

* Developing improved or new technology through IMS, flame spectrometry, or gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GCMS), including increased sensitivity;

* Detecting and identifying low volatility agents;

* Broadening temperature ranges;

* Ensuring user-friendliness with multimode detection;

* Ensuring easy maintenance;

* Determining how a system will resist decontamination;

* Ensuring timely response; and

* Reviewing logistics and supply (preferably selecting equipment available from a Canadian source).


So, chemical agents, TICs, DNBCD and R&D have been covered. Now, how can chemical professionals further help in the defence against chemical agents? Here are some suggestions:

* Provide timely technical knowledge and advice to appropriate advisory agencies;

* Provide advice, training and leadership in the fields of NBC detection, identification, warning, defence and decontamination;

* Provide advice, training and leadership in HAZMAT and TICs management; and

* Report any suspicious activities or inquiries involving NBC activities.

The next question is how we can achieve this. Albeit a grim one, what better occasion is there to publicize and practice the raison d'etre of the CIC, to foster the professionalism, breadth of expertise and technical knowledge of its members, than this defence endeavour? Local Sections, Subject Divisions, and ad-hoc committees chaired by CIC members in key positions are just some of the venues we can use to be involved and to provide this technical knowledge, advice and leadership to the appropriate authorities. Professional development sessions, short courses and seminars are also an option. The CIC allows for these types of activities and facilitates networking among all chemical professionals in Canada.

Finally, I think that the best defence against NBC situations is to be informed and to share the information we have. The CIC is, to me, the best, most productive and timely way to achieve this aim. I tried it and it works!

Note pour les francophones: le present article a ete redige en anglais seulement afin de joindre le plus de lecteurs possible et d'eviter toute confusion en utilisant les deux langues. Je regrette tout inconvenient que cela ait pu creer.



Table 1.

R&D - Chemical agents.

Horizon 1 (2003/04-2007/08)

Next Generation Chemical Agent Detection, Sampling and Identification Project

* Assessment of chemical agent area and point monitoring equipment

* Identification and option analysis phases

* Estimated cost: $75M

Field Sampling & Identification of Biological and Chemical Agents (FESIBCA) Capability

* Assessment of currently available kits

* Development of own kits

Training Simulants

* Research and provision of technical advice on simulants for chemical detector training

Horizon 2 (2008/09-2012/13)

Next Generation Chemical Agent Detection, Sampling and Identification Project (cont'd)

* Definition and implementation phases

* Stand-off (distance) chemical capability

* Integration of NBC dosimeters

Use of Unmanned Anal Vehicles, Robotics and Space-based Technologies for Remote Point/Stand-Off Chemical Detection

Horizon 3 (2013/14-2022/23)

Next Generation Chemical Agent Detection, Sampling and Identification Project (cont'd)

* NBC integrated dosimeter

* Integration of NBC sensors

Major Jean-Francois Legault, P.Eng., MCIC, works at the Directorote of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence, National Defence Headquarters, Ottawa, ON, and is the Chair of the Ottawa Local Section. He can be reached at 613-996-7496 or You can learn more about the Directorate NBCD at
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Author:Legault, Jean-Francois
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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