A research by two scientists has resulted in a new "green" method for rapidly and safely destroying toxic agents such as chemical weapons and pesticides.
The method has been developed by Dr Stan Brown and Dr Alexei Neverov, specialists in catalytic chemistry, who for several years have tested their approach using model compounds in their lab.
The two scientists have invented mild, non-corrosive alcohol-based methodologies that are remarkably effective in destroying organophosphorus agents in seconds.
Such agents include phosphorus-based chemical weapons, pesticides and related compounds act as acetyl cholinesterase inhibitors, meaning they block nerve impulses, leading to paralysis, respiratory failure and eventually death.
The reaction products of the tested method are non-toxic, making it a "green" alternative to existing decontamination practices, which rely on caustic agents such as lye or bleach, and which can damage or destroy contaminated equipment or facilities.
Recently completed testing by an independent European defence corporation has shown the researchers' method to be greater than 99 per cent effective when used on the deadly nerve agents Tabun, Soman and VX.
When tested in solution, full destruction of all three agents was achieved in less than 30 seconds. Testing on contaminated surfaces showed virtually complete decontamination of the agents in 10 minutes - the shortest of the time periods tested.
"The technology is good news for organizations such as homeland security and emergency first-responders," said Davis Hill, Commercial Development Manager for PARTEQ Innovations, the technology transfer office of Queen's.
"Both the speed and the benign nature of the method mean that facilities or equipment exposed to the contaminants could be cleared and ready for use almost immediately," he added.
According to the researchers, the method offers a safe, green option for destroying chemical weapons stockpiles, as well as for rapid cleanup of environmental spills.
A more immediate application is in counteracting possible terrorist attacks using chemical weapons agents, they added.
The decontamination methodology has no special environmental requirements, meaning it can be easily stored and used at all temperatures and under most conditions.
"This seemingly simple chemical method offers an elegant, rapid and clean solution to a difficult problem," said Dr. Dupont Durst, Head of the Chemical Methodology Team at the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center.