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INEEL researchers discover that concrete degrades nerve agent and can predict rate of decay

Researchers at the Department of Energy's Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory can detect the nerve agent VX on concrete surfaces using a unique chemical detection instrument. Scientific research into how quickly a nerve agent decays has the potential both to help counter terrorist threats and to support ongoing studies in environmental restoration.

What's more, researchers can now predict how quickly VX decays when it is sprayed on concrete. VX attacks the body's nervous system by interfering with the normal transmission of chemicals that help control nerves, muscles and glands.

Through funding from the U.S. Army and the Department of Energy, INEEL researchers are supporting environmental restoration and national security activities by designing new instruments that can identify chemicals quickly and accurately. INEEL specializes in analyzing chemicals on the surfaces of common materials such as soils and plants.

Using a prototype IT-SIMS (ion trap secondary mass spectrometer), researchers discovered that the chemical makeup of concrete reacts with VX and causes it to break down. How quickly the chemical weapon decomposes depends on the temperature of the environment-the hotter the better. Determining the relationship between VX degradation on concrete and ambient temperature is a significant advance. Such information could help governments make better decisions about how to protect their people in the event of a VX attack. A cover article featuring this research appears on the Nov, 15, 2002, Environmental Science and Technology Journal.

VX is easily absorbed through skin and eyes, and exposure to a tiny fraction of a gram can be lethal. It's important to be able to detect traces of the chemical on concrete, and to understand how long it will hang around, because concrete is so common. Although VX has been banned for use through the Chemical Weapons Convention, and most countries are destroying their stock of the
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Contact: Deborah Hill
dahill@inel.gov
208-526-4723
DOE/Idaho National Laboratory
15-Nov-2002


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