Researchers at University of New Brunswick (Canada) and University of Kent (UK) have introduced a new way for containing and deactivating neurotoxic chemicals which include VX and sarin.
Dr. Simon Holder from Canada and Dr. Barry Blight from UK are currently working on neurotoxic chemicals.
What are neurotoxins and why are they dangerous?
These weapons are commonly called nerve agents or neurotoxins. They have high potency and act at a faster rate. Even minute doses of this chemical can lead to rapid paralysis and consequently death. This is caused due to the disturbance of the attachment linking the body’s nerves and muscles, by the chemicals.
Neurotoxins can cause neurotoxicity due to the damage that they can cause tot the nerve tissue. They are exogenous chemicals and can potentially result in destructive functions in nerve tissue, either developing or mature. Moreover, these neurologically toxic chemicals have an extensive class.
These liquids are knowingly forbidden. However, they are wrongly aerosolized to bring upon damage to huge geographical areas. Hence, they are pretty much considered to be weapons of mass destruction (WMD). While minute doses can be significantly harmful and life-threatening, they are still easier to handle with all safety precautions taken. However, such chemicals are never handled at small doses and are usually existing in bulk. Hence, it was important for researchers to develop a method or source of object that could potentially alleviate the safety risks involved with handling such a chemical.
The research and development
When dealing with a highly dangerous chemical, the research can be a challenge. Safety measures need to be taken and its harder to do so especially when the prime component of the research can cause significant health risks.
The Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) of the UK Ministry of Defense, financed a scheme. In the project, the Ken team focused on the development of new methods to decontaminate these chemical weapons in bulk. The research concluded in the “Metal-organic framework (MO)-containing polymer sponge”.
This is a sponge that is designed to expand and consume any life-threatening neurotoxins. This results in safer handling of the dangerous chemical. This reduces the health risk significantly and makes sure that the individual dealing with the chemical, is not exposed to any neurotoxins. To further help with this, it also consists of the MOF chemical catalyst. This catalyst quickens the chemical breakdown, hence resulting in the reduction of the dangerous neurotoxins into safer components that can be dealt with.
However, the neurotoxins are dangerous, to begin with. Hence, it caused concern over safety in research as well. That, however, was overcome by the usage of appropriate substances that could potentially cause the simulation of the behavior of neurotoxins. Moreover, this was done without any hazardous exposure to life-threatening chemicals.
Testing the prototype
Following this, the prototype material was tested by DSTL. They used actual nerve agents to verify this result. Dr. Holder, director of research at Kent’s School of Physical Sciences also commented on the research and the consequent results. He explained that less than five kilograms of the MOF-containing polymer sponge are needed for it to perform its job efficiently. Its job includes the absorption, immobilization, and safe destruction of a 55-gallon drum of these toxic chemicals.
Dr. Holder added that they are very excited about the further potential that this development can possess, in the fighting life-threatening chemicals in the future. With this new development, the research team hopes for safer environments and the use of neurotoxins, knowing the value of human life