New method discovered to protect against chemical weapons

May 27, 2014
Compounds have been discovered that offer a new way to detoxify chemical weapons such as sarin gas. Credit: Graphic courtesy of Oregon State University

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered that some compounds called polyoxoniobates can degrade and decontaminate nerve agents such as the deadly sarin gas, and have other characteristics that may make them ideal for protective suits, masks or other clothing.

The use of polyoxoniobates for this purpose had never before been demonstrated, scientists said, and the discovery could have important implications for both military and civilian protection. A United Nations report last year concluded that sarin gas was used in the conflict in Syria.

The study findings were just published in the European Journal of Inorganic Chemistry.

Some other exist that can decontaminate nerve gases, researchers said, but they are organic, unstable, degraded by sunlight and have other characteristics that make them undesirable for – or they are inorganic, but cannot be used on fabrics or surfaces.

By contrast, the polyoxoniobates are inorganic, do not degrade in normal environmental conditions, dissolve easily and it should be able to incorporate them onto surfaces, fabrics and other material.

"This is a fundamental new understanding of what these compounds can do," said May Nyman, an associate professor of chemistry in the OSU College of Science. "As stable, they have an important potential to decontaminate and protect against these deadly nerve gases."

As a chemical group, polyoxoniobates have been known of since the mid-1900s, Nyman said, but a detailed investigation of their complex chemistry has revealed this new potential. Besides protection against nerve gas, she said, their chemistry might allow them to function as a catalyst that could absorb carbon dioxide and find use in carbon sequestration at fossil-fuel power plants – but little has been done yet to explore that potential.

A new method to protect against could be significant. These organofluorophosphate compounds can be inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and in military use are considered weapons of mass destruction. They can be lethal even at very small levels of exposure.

"In continued work we hope to incorporate the protective compounds onto surfaces or fabrics and explore their function," Nyman said. "They could form the basis for an improved type of gas mask or other protection. We would also need to test the material's ability to withstand very arid environments, extreme heat or other conditions."

A goal will be materials that are durable, high performing and retain a high level of protection against nerve agents such as sarin and soman gas even in harsh environmental conditions, researchers said.

The OSU research demonstrated the ability of polyoxoniobates to neutralize both actual and simulated nerve agents. Testing against actual nerve agents was done at the Edgewood Chemical Biological Center, a U.S. Army facility designed for that purpose.

Explore further: Nanotube-infused clothing may protect against chemical weapons

More information: Study paper: ir.library.oregonstate.edu/xmlui/handle/1957/48156

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Defending against chemical acts of terrorism

Apr 19, 2012

Researchers may have found a way to protect us against otherwise deadly chemical attacks, such as the subway sarin incident in Tokyo that left thirteen people dead and thousands more injured or with temporary vision problems. ...

Recommended for you

Team pioneers strategy for creating new materials

Aug 29, 2014

Making something new is never easy. Scientists constantly theorize about new materials, but when the material is manufactured it doesn't always work as expected. To create a new strategy for designing materials, ...

Plug n' Play protein crystals

Aug 29, 2014

Almost a hundred years ago in 1929 Linus Pauling presented the famous Pauling's Rules to describe the principles governing the structure of complex ionic crystals. These rules essentially describe how the ...

Breaking benzene

Aug 27, 2014

Aromatic compounds are found widely in natural resources such as petroleum and biomass, and breaking the carbon-carbon bonds in these compounds plays an important role in the production of fuels and valuable ...

User comments : 0