13 Mar 2018 19:36

Origin of toxic substance cannot be identified by analyzing its composition - expert

MOSCOW. March 13 (Interfax) - The analysis of the composition of a chemical warfare agent does not help identify the place where it was manufactured, former UN expert on Iraq Anton Utkin said.

"What counts most is that, even if you identify a substance, this doesn't mean you have identified where this substance was synthesized. Wherever on the planet you synthesize a substance, it will be the same," Utkin said on the Rossiya-24 (VGTRK) television channel.

If the same technology is followed strictly in manufacturing a substance, the final product will always include some impurities that can serve as 'fingerprints', but this can help detect the technology itself rather than the place where the product was synthesized, he said.

"If a chemical warfare agent was produced somewhere and then the same technology was used to produce this substance at a different location on the planet, all impurities and properties of this chemical warfare agent will be similar. You won't be able to tell where this substance comes from - this country, or another, or yet another," he said.

To identify a chemical warfare agent used in poisoning a person, samples of his or her tissues and biological fluids are analyzed, he said.

"The most modern method is chromatography and mass spectrometry. A chromatograph helps identify the mass-spectrum of a compound, which serves as a 'fingerprint' of a concrete compound. The mass-spectrum in itself doesn't provide a clear picture, it is good when you have a test sample of the same compound," Utkin said.

Substances entering a human system most often decompose, and therefore, to clearly identify the type of a chemical warfare agent, the original substance needs to be reconstructed based on the samples obtained, he said.

"To make definite conclusions, a standard substance needs to be synthesized, bred, and analyzed, and it's only then that you can say: yes, these substances are fully identical. This takes not a day, or two, or three, especially if it's some unique substance," Utkin said.

The British authorities have not given any details of the use of a chemical warfare agent in Salisbury but only presented their interpretation of the events, Utkin said. To make the investigation into the possible use of a chemical warfare agent impartial, London should have notified the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons about this fact and engage its specialists, he said.

"If we have a global regime banning the proliferation of chemical weapons, then this very regime needs to be used. Because, if you abandon it and make some statements on your own, where is your impartiality?" Utkin said.

There has been no recorded instance of the use of chemical warfare agents by the Soviet Union or Russia, Utkin said. "There have been no confirmed facts of the use of chemical weapons by the Soviet Union or Russia," he said.