Monday, 19 March 2018

Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall welcomed in Halifax - Daily Mail My sister insists it's me, so I suppose it must be.

Donald Trump, 1998 - BBC HARDtalk

'Leading' the World!

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Cars! Cars! Cars!

One of the most distinguishing features of the twentieth century was the development of the internal combustion engine and its application to a metal box on wheels - what we call the automobile or 'car'.

At the turn of the 20th Century such vehicles were fascinating and rare. They were limited to the rich and adventurous. Even in the 1950's, only one in fifteen families in Britain owned one. From that time there has been an exponential growth in ownership, not only in Britain but across the world. There has been a parallel increase in goods vehicles and in the total the miles covered by these machines.

Today there are now over 37 million motor vehicles in Britain (1) covering  311 billion vehicle miles of travel (2)  At every one of those miles travelled, the products of combustion of the fuel, whether petrol or diesel, is emitted through the exhaust pipe. That equates to a huge amount of pollution of gases and particulates that never do any good and often do serious harm to humans and the wider environment. 

Given that it is repeated the world over by more than 1.2 billion motor vehicles excluding off-road vehicles or heavy construction equipment and 2 billion projected by 2035, it is not difficult to appreciate how in addition to serious local implications, there must be global consequences too.

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Lead Pollution from Engines

Some fifty years ago I got interested in the subject. In particular, just one constituent of the exhaust - lead (Pb), a well known poison.  As well as having many useful purposes in plumbing and construction, in another application, tetra ethyl lead (TEL) was added to petrol. This was to slow down the burning process, which would otherwise cause 'knocking' within the cylinder.

On the principle of "what goes in must come out" this lead additive was emitted in the exhaust as lead compounds but still retaining their poisonous effect on living organisms. The tiny particles of lead found their way into the air where they could be inhaled, or settled out, contaminating dust and vegetation within the vicinity.

Local Notoriety!

Because relatively little attention had been drawn to the subject of lead pollution from vehicles or its possible heath and environmental consequences, my little paper achieved a certain degree of local notoriety, was circulated to the Bristol City Council and covered by then then Harlech Television. Sadly I failed rather miserably to rise to the promotional role although I enjoyed the brief modicum of fame.

In 1972 the article was published in the 'Public Heath Inspector's Journal', later to change its title to Environmental Health, a name it still carries. (3) The paper reviewed the health and psychological consequences of lead in the body based largely on the work of Prof. Herbert Needleman in the United States. (4)

His unique approach was to use the residue he found in teeth dentine from children which he correlated with their IQ scores. Once social and other variables had been eliminated, it revealed an association. The more lead children were exposed to, the lower their IQ. 

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Lead contamination of fruit and veg.

My own limited work with the invaluable assistance of the Bristol Public Analyst's department, was to prove that grass and displayed fruit exposed by busy traffic routes was measurably (in p.p.m.) contaminated by lead, and that this reduced with distance from the road. I was not in a position to measure atmospheric lead particles.

It may have had a small part in the campaign that later developed to eradicate lead from petrol altogether. Incredibly, this took a further 28 years to achieve, virtually after every European country and North America had banned its use! (5) 

Lead in milk.

Later on in another experimental situation on the A30, I was able to demonstrate that animals - in this case goats - grazed on road side verges, passed the lead contamination into their milk, and that recorded levels increased with time.

Despite all the scientific evidence of adverse effects, particularly on the brain development of foetuses and small children, causing permanent mental impairment, the 'Independent' reported  'Innospec', a subsidiary of a US firm in Cheshire, was still producing and supplying TEL for fuel in Algeria! (6)

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Damaging children's health and intelligence.

In 1999 the British government admitted  one in 20 British children were then contaminated with lead above the level at which it was known to damage intelligence. An independent report by a senior scientist at Sussex University put the figure much higher at one in 10.

What the environmental consequences of widespread contamination by tons of minute lead particles over decades in plants, soil, water courses and animal life is largely unknown, but it cannot have been good.  

Over the same period all biological indicators suggest massive decline as does even human reproductive virility. (7) An analysis, published in the journal 'Human Reproduction' confirms that amongst Western men there has been a 52% decline in sperm concentration and a 59% decline in total sperm count. 

Contributing to wild life decline?

As an indicator of wider trends, a recent Government report suggests there has been a 55 per cent fall in farmland birds since 1970. (8) For some species the decline was even greater. Turtle doves, corn buntings, willow tits and grey partridges, have all fallen to less than 10 per cent of the levels in 1970.

Of course there may be many reasons for these shocking biological trends but lead in the environment may well be one of them, it being cumulative, persistent and poisonous to living things. Now very recent research has taken even informed scientists by surprise. 

The news is not good and rather supports the pessimistic view I took fifty years ago. Lead in the environment may have played a much greater part in human health and longevity than was previously realised. If so it could hardly have been less dangerous to wildlife and natural organic systems.

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Lead as as dangerous as smoking!

The London Times has just (13.3.2018) reported on a Vancouver study that suggests lead from a variety of sources contributes as much to death rates as does smoking!

Bruce Lanphear headed a team that followed 20,300 people over 20 years, measuring lead-in-blood levels in the late '80's and '90's. In this time 4,422 died. The tenth with the highest levels of lead were 37% more likely to die than the 10% lowest band even where the detected lead was much lower that that previously considered non-harmful.

People exposed to high levels  of lead were 70% more likely to die from heart disease and twice as likely to suffer from blocked arteries. Professor Lanphear estimate that in the US, lead was a significant contributing factor to 412,000 premature deaths, which in the UK he equates to about 100,000 cases! (9)

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Lead just one of many dangerous contaminants.

Lead contamination in humans is now in decline as a result of environmental controls but it is still 10 to 100 times higher than pre-industrial times. Experts agree this study provides evidence that lead has been an important factor in disease and early death previously ignored. Obviously lead has been only one of the many harmful constituents of exhaust fumes including hydrocarbons and oxides of nitrogen with known irritant, poisonous and carcinogenic properties. 

Together with asbestos fibres from brake pads before this material was excluded, who can doubt that motor vehicles have contributed hugely to the public health profile experienced. Almost one in ten children, particularly in urban areas suffer from asthma-like symptoms. Vehicle smog affects numerous of the world's great cities. The environmental consequences of all this pollution on land, air and water life forms is largely unquantified and hidden with the obsession with just one, relatively harmless gas, carbon dioxide (CO2)

Motor vehicles have become an indispensable adjunct to developed human civilisation and economies depend on all the ancillary industries that has obstructed the realistic appraisal of the wide range of human and environmental damage. Humans it seems have a love affair with this particular invention that no level of risk will seriously impede.

Revolution in attitudes and behaviour needed 

Only a revolutionary change it attitude to travel and transport will change it. At least, as with lead in petrol, the population is becoming aware of the risks it entails and may start to demand change of its law makers and manufacturers. 

In 1972 I ended my paper with the words, "It is a sad fact that we require tragedy before we are prepared to act". As a general statement of the human condition, I see no reason to change that view. For untold millions it is too late. Lets hope its not too late for those that come after us.





3. veater, T. T., Public Health Inspector magazine (1972)

4.  Needleman, H.





Sunday, 18 March 2018

Boris Johnson Issues Completely New Story on “Russian Novichoks”

by Craig Murray 102

Boris Johnson has attempted to renew the faltering case for blaming Russia ahead of the investigation into the Skripal attack, by issuing a fundamentally new story that completely changes – and very radically strengthens – the government line on what it knows. You can see the long Foreign and Commonwealth Office Statement here.
This is the sensational new claim which all the propaganda sheets are running with:
The Foreign Secretary revealed this morning that we have information indicating that within the last decade, Russia has investigated ways of delivering nerve agents likely for assassination. And part of this programme has involved producing and stockpiling quantities of novichok. This is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention.
This is an astonishing claim and requires close investigation. If this information comes from MI5 or MI6, there is a process of inter-departmental clearance that has to be gone through before it can be put in the public domain – even by a Minister – which is known as “Action-on”. I have been through the process personally many times when working as head of the FCO Section of the Embargo Surveillance Centre, monitoring Iraqi arms acquisitions. It is not, unless actually at war, a Saturday night process – it would have had to have been done on Friday.
So why is this essential information being released not to Parliament on Friday, but on Andrew Marr’s sofa early on a Sunday morning, backed up with a Sunday morning official statement? This is very unusual. Furthermore, it is absolutely incompatible with what I was told last week by FCO sources – they did not know this information, and one of them certainly would have if it was based on MI6 or GCHQ reporting.
I can see only two possible explanations. One – and the most likely – depends on looking yet again extremely carefully at what the statement says. It says “we have information indicating that within the last decade”. If does not say how long we have held that information. And “within the last decade” can mean any period of time between a second and ten years ago, Very tellingly it says “within the last decade”, it does not say “for the last decade”.
“Within the last decade” is in fact the exact same semantic trick as “sale price – up to 50% off”. That can mean no more than 0.1% off and its only actual meaning is “never better than half price”.
The most likely explanation of this sentence is therefore that they have – since last week when they didn’t know this – just been given this alleged information. And not from a regular ally with whom we have an intelligence sharing agreement. It could have come from another state, or from a private source of dodgy intelligence – Orbis, for example.
The FCO are again deliberately twisting words to convey the impression that we have known for a decade, whereas in fact the statement does not say this at all.
There is a second possible explanation. MI6 officers in the field get intelligence from agents who, by and large, they pay for it. In my experience of seeing thousands of MI6 intelligence reports, a fair proportion of this “Humint” is unreliable. Graham Greene, a former MI6 officer, was writing a true picture in the brilliant “our Man in Havana”, which I cannot strongly recommend enough to you.
The intelligence received arrives in Vauxhall Cross and there is a filter. A country desk officer will assess the intelligence and see if it is worth issuing as a Report; they judge accuracy against how good access the source has and how trustworthy they are deemed to be, and whether the content squares with known facts. If passed, the intelligence then becomes a Report and is given a serial number. This is not a very good filter, because it still lets through a lot of rubbish, but it does eliminate the complete dregs. One possible source of new information that has suddenly changed the government’s state of knowledge this weekend is a search of these dregs for anything that can be cobbled together. As I have written in Murder in Samarkand, it was the deliberate removal of filters which twisted the Iraqi WMD intelligence.
In short, we should be extremely sceptical of this sudden new information that Boris Johnson has produced out of a hat. If the UK was in possession of intelligence about a secret Russian chemical weapons programme, it was not under a legal obligation to tell Andrew Marr, but it was under a legal obligation to tell the OPCW. Not only did the UK fail to do that, the UK Ambassador Sir Geoffrey Adams was last year fulsomely congratulating the OPCW on the completion of the destruction of Russia’s chemical weapons stocks, without a single hint or reservation entered that Russia may have undeclared or secret stocks.
On the Andrew Marr programme, Boris Johnson appeared to say for the first time that the nerve agent in Salisbury was actually made in Russia. But this is a major divergence from the published FCO statement, which very markedly does not say this. Boris Johnson was therefore almost certainly reverting to his reflex lying. In fact the FCO statement gives an extremely strong hint the FCO is not at all confident it was made in Russia and is seeking to widen its bases. Look at this paragraph:
Russia is the official successor state to the USSR. As such, Russia legally took responsibility for ensuring the CWC applies to all former Soviet Chemical Weapons stocks and facilities.
It does not need me to point out, that if Porton Down had identified the nerve agent as made in Russia, the FCO would not have added that paragraph. Plainly they cannot say it was made in Russia.
The Soviet Chemical Weapons programme was based in Nukus in Uzbekistan. It was the Americans who dismantled and studied it and destroyed and removed the equipment. I visited it as Ambassador to Uzbekistan shortly after they had finished – I recall it as desolate, tiled and very cold, nothing to look at really. The above paragraph seeks to hold the Russians responsible for anything that came out of Nukus, when it was the Americans who actually took it.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

The Late, Great, Stephen Hawking

Image result for stephen hawking early imagesRex. Stephen Hawking at his graduation in 1962.
Stephen Hawking had a great brain. Of that there is no doubt. But he also had a great soul, capable of coping with the debilitating condition with which he was afflicted, as his his body became increasingly inoperative. Somehow or other he managed to retain his impish and fatalistic sense of humour almost to the end.

Motor neurone disease, which to this day largely defies explanation and cure, was diagnosed when he was in his early twenties whilst at Cambridge, overflowing with intellectual promise. It comes as no surprise that the diagnosis and prognosis hit him like a train, yet somehow he found the inner strength to come to terms with the awful prospect of progressive deterioration and early death. The important role of his first wife in this cannot be ignored.

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Stephen Hawking and his wife Jane Wilde in 1965; Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones in The Theory of Everything

Perhaps we can say, fortunately for him and human kind, he proved the doctors wrong, and although the disease did as it was predicted, to a point where he could not even speak, it did so at a slower pace than expected. Miraculously his exceptional mind continued to work, unmolested. Indeed some have suggested that it intensified his mental and imaginative world, unencumbered by physical preoccupations. 

Predicted to have a life span of only three or four years, he in fact lived to seventy-six.  In this time he wrestled with and unlocked fundamental mathematical explanations for the creation of the universe and time itself. 

His personal paradox, of mind-over-matter in the continuing exploration of the universe, cannot be averred. In a way it epitomises the two fundamental principles of entropy and creation, in one very vulnerable human body. As human beings, we too have to cope with the phenomena of ageing, death and renewal, spiritual or otherwise. Redemption as a concept and experience is never far away.

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Hawking may have gone, as we all must, but he leaves the metaphysical world of thought and human beings' part in it, unalterably changed, as did all his mentors and exemplars before him. The coincidence that Hawking was born 8th January 1942 on the 300th anniversary of Galileo's death on the January 8, 1642 and died on the 14th March 2018, the 139th anniversary of Albert Einstein's birth in 1879 has been noted. 

In another strange twist of fate, in the same year Galileo died, Sir Isaac Newton, one of the greatest English thinkers, was born on Christmas Day, 1642. We remember Alexander Pope's epitaph: 'Nature and Nature's Laws lay hid in Night: God said, “Let Newton be!” and all was light.' 

Perhaps similar words could be applied to Hawking, who said he worked not for medals, but for a greater understanding of the universe and of the mathematical principles by which it operates.

His mental territory was on the very fringes of the limitless universe, of creation and even skirted the concept of Creator - were there to be one. He stated that he believed in neither a supernatural being or in a life after death. Nevertheless the language of mathematics as a unerring tool to describe and explain, and the mental processes of the human brain to manipulate them, far beyond what is visible to the naked eye, is certainly suggestive of the miraculous and ineffable. William Blake put it thus: "To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wild Flower. Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand. And Eternity in an hour."

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The eldest of Frank and Isobel Hawking's four children, Stephen William Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of the death of Galileo.

Hawkin said, 

"Throughout history, religion has been a force for evil. Religion is supposed to make people behave for fear of the hereafter. But this doesn't seem to have deterred people in the past. I think a conventional after life is a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark. 

One can't prove there wasn't a creator. All one can do is (seek?) for a more reasonable explanation based on science.

Ever since the Greeks we have manged to explain what previously seemed acts of God in terms of scientific laws. 

I believe what makes us unique is transcending our limits. How do we? With our minds and our machines." See:

Even great minds it would appear, can be blind to the good that religious belief can do for the human soul and to human interaction, or for that matter the harm that has been done by those that have professed an atheistic and socialist philosophy.

In his seminal book A Brief History of Time, he suggested if physicists could find a “theory of everything” — that is, a cohesive explanation for how the universe works — they would glimpse “the mind of God.” However he clarified this later on to say in his view this was not a 'personal god' but one of pure knowledge and understanding.

Image result for stephen hawking early images  Stephen Hawking his first wife and children
In an interview with El Mundo he said:
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”

However it is hard not to see the traditional theological view of God as "omnipotentomniscient, and omnipresent" as not far removed from Hawking's, were there to be a supernatural and transcendental force, working in and throughout the physical universe. 

The ultimate mystery may well be how the human brain in one such as Hawking, can conceive the limitless expanse of space and its origins. We are still left wondering how primitive man could have got it so right when he wrote in Genesis, "The earth was without form and void and darkness was on the face of the deep. And God said, 'Let there be light.' And there was light." 

We must concede that nothing in Hawking's theorising - or any other scientist or mathematician for that matter - helps very much with the moral and ethical questions that face human beings or the human race in general. In particular how we treat ourselves, others and all other living forms and processes on an ecological earth. He observed he considered climate change a far greater threat than terrorism but this does not get us very far. 

It is impossible to conclude other than human beings have failed miserably in the past in these areas and that future generations will have to contend with ever increasing challenges of survival on this unique - as far as we are aware - miraculous and beautiful planet. It is hard to see how this can be achieved without fundamental principles or right and wrong, or that a system of morality can exist on mathematics alone. Hawking demonstrated a human nature and characteristic that went beyond his mathematical equations, and so should we all. 

After more than two thousand years, can we really improve on the words of Jesus when asked what was the greatest commandment in the law:  "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself." 

Someone has said, if there wasn't a God we would have to invent, for it is very hard to justify an integrated and convincing system of ethics without one as there would be nothing but self interest, and no restraint on how it might be achieved. Might would be right.
If Stephen Hawking's life can invoke and inspire attitude and action along the lines of wonder and respect for one another and the planet on which we depend, he will not have lived in vain.

The following article is re-published from "India"

Stephen Hawking, the famous professor and the world’s most renowned physicist passed away at the age of 76. He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge in the morning. At the age of 21, he was diagnosed with motor neurone disease but he never let his disability affect his desire to learn, his curiosity to study the universe and its origins. He was so famous that his birth date and the day he died is somehow linked with Einstein, Galileo. Professor Hawking was born on the 300th anniversary of Galileo Galilei’s death and passed away on the 139th anniversary of Einstein’s birth.
There were many other significant similarities between Hawking and Einstein. Both of them suffered from brain issues and died at the age of 76. They got married twice in their lifetime. Einstein and Hawking, both had an IQ of around 160. Both of them had interests in the same topics and they have inspired numerous movies on their lives.
We will always remember the genius Stephen Hawking for his enormous contribution to science. Due to the complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he passed away at the age of 76, but in 1963 the doctors said that he will live only for two years. Professor Hawking survived the dire prognosis by 54 years. Though he was forced to invent his own computer system to generate his famous voice, albeit with a robotic American accent. Most of his life he was confined to a wheelchair. (ALSO READ: Stephen Hawking: Interesting Facts You Must Know)
On his 70th birthday, Stephen Hawking said, “However difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.” According to the National Geographic reports, a statement from his family reads “It is with great sadness we announce the death of Professor Stephen Hawking at the age of 76.” Stephen Hawking was best known for his work with black holes. And in the emerging field of quantum physics, he also helped to quantify Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity.
In 1988 he published his book “A Brief History of Time.” And for three years consecutively the book became the New York Times best-seller. This was the book which was celebrated all over the world and this is the book which made him the much-loved public figure.

Published Date: March 14, 2018 12:24 PM IST

The secret US prisons you've never heard of before | Will Potter

Published on Nov 9, 2015

Investigative journalist Will Potter is the only reporter who has been inside a Communications Management Unit, or CMU, within a US prison. These units were opened secretly, and radically alter how prisoners are treated — even preventing them from hugging their children. Potter, a TED Fellow, shows us who is imprisoned here, and how the government is trying to keep them hidden. "The message was clear," he says. "Don’t talk about this place." Find sources for this talk at TEDTalks is a daily video podcast of the best talks and performances from the TED Conference, where the world's leading thinkers and doers give the talk of their lives in 18 minutes (or less). Look for talks on Technology, Entertainment and Design -- plus science, business, global issues, the arts and much more. Find closed captions and translated subtitles in many languages at Follow TED news on Twitter: Like TED on Facebook: Subscribe to our channel:

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Novichok Poison Explained


Volume 96 Issue 12 | p. 3 | News of The Week
Issue Date: March 19, 2018 | Web Date: March 13, 2018

Nerve agent attack on spy used ‘Novichok’ poison

Chemical weapon used in U.K. assassination attempt was developed by Soviet Union during Cold War
By Mark Peplow, special to C&EN
Chemical structures of organophosphorus Novichok agent VR and the organophosphorus nerve agents A-230, A-232, and A-234.
Substance 33, also known as VR, was developed into a binary Novichok agent as part of the U.S.S.R.’s chemical weapons program. The program also created nerve agents such as A-230, A-232 and A-234, some of which became Novichok agents.
Chemical weapons experts have identified the nerve agent used in the attempted murder of a former Russian double agent living in the U.K. It is part of a family of compounds known as Novichok agents that were developed in a Cold War-era weapons program in the former U.S.S.R. Russia now faces questions about its involvement in the attack, and indeed whether it has violated the Chemical Weapons Convention.
The nerve agent was used against Sergei Skripal, previously a Russian military intelligence officer who was convicted of leaking secrets to the U.K. He was released in 2010 and settled in Salisbury, England, where he and his daughter Yulia were poisoned on March 4.
“It is now clear that Mr. Skripal and his daughter were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent of a type developed by Russia,” U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said on Monday, March 12, citing work by investigators at the U.K.’s Defence Science & Technology Laboratory at Porton Down. May said that it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible”, although Russia has denied any involvement in the attack.
Novichok agents are organophosphorus compounds, similar to sarin and VX, which inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase and cause a biochemical logjam that cripples the nervous system. Symptoms range from sweating and twitching to seizures and an inability to breathe. The U.K. has not disclosed the specific Novichok agent used against the Skripals.
“The U.S.S.R. is the only country to have developed and produced these [Novichok] agents,” says Jean Pascal Zanders, an independent consultant who was previously a senior research fellow at the European Union Institute for Security Studies. “It’s almost as though the Russians are sending a message to the West that they can reach anywhere, whenever they like.”
The newcomers
Much of what is publicly known about Novichok agents comes from Vil Mirzayanov, an analytical chemist who worked for the State Research Institute of Organic Chemistry and Technology (GosNIIOKhT), a notorious chemical weapons laboratory. Mirzayanov developed methods to detect nerve agents created and tested in the U.S.S.R.’s chemical weapons facilities. His techniques would be used to monitor the environment for any traces of the agents that might reveal the labs’ activities to foreign intelligence services.
In the late 1980s, Mirzayanov’s analytical techniques revealed that nerve agents were befouling the air and water around one of these facilities, posing a major health risk. So he went public, revealing details of the U.S.S.R.’s chemical weapons program to Moscow News in 1992. Officials arrested and imprisoned Mirzayanov, but eventually dropped the case against him. In 1995, he immigrated to the U.S., where he subsequently wrote a book about his experiences, titled “State Secrets: An Insider’s Chronicle of the Russian Chemical Weapons Program.”
The book documents the U.S.S.R.’s search for new chemical weapons—the “Foliant” program—from the early 1970s until the early 1990s. That program had several goals. It aimed to develop nerve agents that could not be stopped by the chemical protective gear available to NATO soldiers at the time. It also looked for chemical agents that were safer to handle and undetectable in conventional analytical tests. One of the key approaches used to achieve the safety and evasion goals involved so-called binary agents—chemical weapons that could be produced immediately before they were deployed, by combining simple and innocuous precursors. “They would have used precursors more frequently present in the chemical industry,” says Ralf Trapp, a consultant chemist and toxicologist who previously worked for the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
According to writings by Jonathan B. Tucker, a chemical weapons expert, the first binary formulation developed under Foliant was used to make Substance 33, also known as VR. This compound is very similar to the more widely known VX, differing only in the alkyl substituents on its nitrogen and oxygen atoms. “This weapon was given the code name Novichok,” Tucker wrote in “War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda.” Novichok is the Russian word for ‘newcomer’.
In “State Secrets,” Mirzayanov tells that the program also developed a range of compounds based on the phosphorus-oxygen-fluorine core of older nerve agents like sarin and soman. By substituting the O-alkyl group in these compounds for an amidine, Foliant scientists created a molecule dubbed A-230. Some five to eight times more poisonous than VX, it was subsequently adopted as a chemical weapon by the Soviet Army. Further variations on this theme produced A-232, which had a similar toxicity to Substance 33 but was much more volatile; and its ethoxy analogue, A-234.
GosNIIOKhT researchers then developed a binary formulation that would produce A-232 (or something very close to it) on demand. This was designated Novichok-5. “Both precursor chemicals had legitimate industrial uses,” Tucker wrote, “so they could be produced at plants ostensibly designed to manufacture agricultural fertilizers or pesticides.” In 1993, Foliant spawned another binary—Novichok-7—that was reportedly just as potent.
Mirzayanov writes that the U.S.S.R. produced a few tons of Novichok-5, and tens of tons of Novichok-7. According to Tucker, the U.S.S.R. carried out open-air tests of Novichok-5 in the early 1990s on the Ustyurt Plateau, a desert area close to the border of present-day Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Györgyi Vásárhelyi and László Földi of the National University of Public Servicehave reported that Novichok-5 and -7 act very rapidly, penetrating the skin and respiratory system.
Plausible explanations
Mirzayanov’s account only provides a snapshot of the Foliant program. Indeed, other scientists have proposed many different formulas for Novichok agents, including a series that incorporates a myriad of dihaloformaldoxime groups. Some estimate that over 100 nerve agents were developed under Foliant, although it is unclear how many of them evolved into binary agents.
Novichok agents are not specifically listed in the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), says Zanders, because “they only became public after the treaty negotiations had been concluded.” But that does not amount to a loophole that would allow their use, because the CWC places a blanket prohibition on the manufacture of any toxic chemical intended to be a weapon. “It covers any toxic chemical, be it past, present, or future,” says Zanders. Russia has been a party to the convention since late 1997, and the Novichok agents “should have been declared to the OPCW, even if they don’t appear in the schedules,” says Zanders.
Prime Minister May has said that there are only two plausible explanations for the attack on the Skripals: “Either this was a direct act by the Russian State against our country, or the Russian government lost control of this potentially catastrophically damaging nerve agent and allowed it to get into the hands of others.” Either of those scenarios would mean that Russia is in breach of the CWC, says Zanders.
May has demanded an explanation from Russia, along with a complete disclosure of the Novichok program to the OPCW. Meanwhile, the executive council of the OPCW is holding a scheduled meeting in The Hague today. Zanders expects that the Novichok attack will be high on the agenda.

CORRECTION: This story was updated on March 15, 2018, to specify when Russia became a party to the Chemical Weapons Convention.
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2018 American Chemical Society
Bob Rayner (March 14, 2018 12:41 PM)
This is a great article, and timely too. Thanks!
» Reply
Glen Reeves (March 14, 2018 3:10 PM)
Being OP compounds, are the Novichok agents treatable by atropine and oximes (and benzodiazepine anticonvulsants)? Do we know the aging periods for AChE binding? Or do they have other pathophysiological mechanisms besides OP effects? I am a physician, and would like to know what medical countermeasures should be given besides airway and ventilator support.
» Reply
J-F Gal (March 15, 2018 3:50 AM)
When browsing Google Scholar for NOVICHOK for recent articles (from 2010, remove references to barley and tomato...), I saw some papers on toxicology and treatments. As a chemist, I am not able to judge the scientific value of these references. Anyway you may check the following:
* Advances in toxicology and medical treatment of chemical warfare nerve agents, DARU Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences201220:81
* Emergency action for chemical and biological warfare agents (book)
CRC Press, Second Edition By D. Hank Ellison
* Organophosphate and Carbamate Poisoning
Emergency Medecine Clinic ; February 2015Volume 33, Issue 1, Pages 133–151
Mil. Med. Sci. Lett. (Voj. Zdrav. Listy) 2015, vol. 84(3), p. 115-127
* A primer on nerve agents: what the emergency responder, anesthesiologist, and intensivist needs to know
Canadian Journal of Anesthesia/Journal canadien d'anesthésie
October 2017, Volume 64, Issue 10, pp 1059–1070
* [BOOK] Nerve agents poisoning and its treatment in schematic figures and tables
Elsevier, 2012.
There are several patents and articles in Russian, etc. that I did not check in detail.
Hope this help.
J-F Gal
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Roman Ivanov (March 14, 2018 3:19 PM)
If Prime Minister May said something, it does not mean it is true. They must present full report including chemical analyses and comparison with a known standard in order to prove that the substance is "Novichok". If UK has such a "standard", they must have an exact chemical formula and therefore they are able to produce this substance in UK. Otherwise, they can speculate who produced this substance and what is this substance till the end of days. We are scientist and only scientific method is valid, not what Prime Minister has to say.
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Cliff Tebeau, PhD analytical, organic chemist (March 15, 2018 11:54 AM)
Dawkins defines Science and Scientific Methods as ultimate TRUTH seekers; a former Russian defector and his daughter were killed. So much for your speculations!
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Dave Trapp (March 14, 2018 5:20 PM)
Is it conceivable for a competent chemist who has seen the formula for such a nerve agent to successfully guess an appropriate binary formula and procedure to make a small amount? If the raw materials are commercially available, could a chemist working for any of a number of other military or secret services produce the material?
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Francis Antoine (March 14, 2018 6:57 PM)
I wonder why we do not hear of the various chemical and biological agents that were also created by the West during and after the cold war? Is not objective reporting a balanced look at both sides of a story?
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John Carpenter (March 14, 2018 9:12 PM)
Francis, the story is about a particular class of chemical agents, said to be used by Russia to kill someone, and said to be developed by Russia. The West is not accused of having recently used a nerve agent to kill someone, so why would you expect this article to address chemical agents previously developed by the West? Russia is accused of having recently violated an international treaty through the use of one of these compounds. The West is not.
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Herb Skovronek (March 14, 2018 7:51 PM)
Yes, Russia is a prime suspect. This could be, as stated, a warning, just as Putin warned he has nukes that can hit Florida.

But there is at least one other possible source-a third party or country who has reinvented the product on his own using available info. But we also need a motive-for anyone-why would Russia decide to kill these two now after years in England? Why would a third party?

Question 1: How reliable are the tests that were used to identify the toxicant in the British labs?

Question 2: How did Russians do their 'open air tests" to determine toxicity and exposure route? I just wonder who volunteered!!!!
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George Krepinsky (March 14, 2018 8:43 PM)
These are not complex substances. It is not impossible to imagine that knowing structure any organic chemist would be able to produce it. For instance, when sarin (or tabun?) was used in Tokyo subway in later 20th century, nobody was suggesting that German government of the day was responsible for providing it. Moreover, substances of this kind are not very stable, and while stored in a forgotten corner of a warehouse, after half of a century the containers may contain decomposition products only. So it looks like the "third party" involvement suggested above is a possibility. It may require Hercule Poirot to discover who would have a motive to using it.
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