Guest Editorial by John Kenneweg, VP of Government, 908 Devices a 2021 ‘ASTORS’ Award Winner for Best CBRNE Detection Solution
What world leaders need to consider when war escalates and how to prepare
As the war in Ukraine continues, Russia has already demonstrated its willingness to target civilians in Kharkiv and Mariupol. World leaders and the Ukranian government must now reflect on the situation and the “what if” of chemical warfare escalation.
So, what tactics have been used in the past to combat this, and what tools will world leaders need to fight off these potential threats?
While many forces are well-trained and well-equipped to detect third-generation chemical warfare agents (CWAs), Russian-developed fourth-generation agents represent the most recent evolution in the chemical warfare landscape and are a more elusive threat.
These A-Series Agents, also known as Novichoks, were employed in 2018 in Salisbury, UK in the attempted assassination of Surgei and Yulia Skripal, and, most recently, in 2020 in an assassination attempt of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
(In 2018, a Cold War poison resurfaced in a rural English city. The deadly nerve agent Novichok nearly killed former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Sailsbury, UK. Several other people were poisoned after coming into contact with Novichok. What is Novichok? Courtesy of SBS Australia and YouTube.
As the government of Ukraine negotiates peace, they may also need to strategize on battling threats that cannot be seen now and in the future.
And, it is imperative governments around the world support them in these efforts, and ready themselves for these potential scenarios.
The Evolution of Chemical Warfare
Chemical warfare has taken many forms: from chlorine gas in World War I, to G-series agents in the 1930s and novel agents used in the UK in 2018.
One thing has remained clear: technology must evolve with these threats to ensure responders and the military can quickly and safely act to protect the public.
While governments have continued to invest in innovation in order to ensure protection, the latest agents have been built with widely-used protection measures in mind.
Novichoks were designed with knowledge and understanding of existing NATO detection and protective equipment in order to counter those methods. There is a significant risk of cross-contamination, so secondary exposures can be just as deadly and difficult to identify.
Further, the delayed onset of symptoms makes the ability to detect contamination even more critical to minimize casualties, limit the spread and conduct appropriate decontamination.
During the Sailsbury incident, for example, 5,000 samples were seized and 13,000 man-hours were spent in protective gear.
Given their evasive nature, Novichoks create challenges for the completion of military tasks such as determining limits of contamination, establishing control zones, selecting decontamination solutions, and verifying decontamination procedures.
Synthetic opioids such as fentanyl aren’t just an issue for the war on drugs – they pose a similar risk to chemical warfare agents with their potency and potential lethality.
When used for this purpose, they are referred to as pharmaceutical-based agents (PBAs).
These agents were first weaponized in 2002 during the Moscow theater hostage crisis, during which more than 100 people died from respiratory arrest after a PBA mixture was disseminated in aerosol form.
There are thousands of potential PBA options, and although they behave like gases, they are unable to be detected or identified by fielded vapor detectors.
The Latest in Detection Technology
Although the existence of these weapons is a reason for worry and fear, there is hope in the way these existing and new agents are detected. Specifically, newer CWA detectors can provide broad coverage of likely threats that are critical to success.
Mass spectrometer devices, for example, significantly reduce the advantages of A-series nerve agents and PBAs by providing rapid, trace-level identification in any phase.
(Learn More about how this first-of-its-Kind Aero Module Detects Aerosolized Chemical Threats; New Targets Added Including Cathinones and Cannabinoids; New MX908 Mobile App Provides Responders Rapid Access & Data Sharing. Courtesy of 908 Devices and Vimeo.)
Using these tools, hazards can now be detected on surfaces and in the air in under a minute regardless of their mode of dissemination. Advanced software leveraging predictive analytics further strengthens the detection capability of PBAs via an expanded library that includes thousands of synthetic opioids.
The Cost of Not Taking Action
(A majority of the U.S. House of Representatives voted to approve a $1.5 trillion bill that would provide $13.6 billion in aid for Ukraine in March 2022. Courtesy of Reuters and YouTube. Posted on Mar 10, 2022.)
As with innovation in any space, new technologies developed to fight the latest evolution of CWAs come with a price tag. Spending on the war in Ukraine has already been significant, and the United States House recently approved a massive spending bill that will provide $13.6 billion in U.S. aid to Ukraine and European allies. But we cannot stop there.
It is imperative that governments around the world put whatever resources possible towards protection from the devastation that chemical warfare can cause.
The cost of not protecting our world will be far greater, both in resources needed to deal with the consequences and in human lives.
About the Author
John Kenneweg is the Vice President of Government business for 908 Devices
A veteran of the industry, John has over 17 years of successful sales and marketing experience, directing sales and business development efforts for innovation leaders such as Draeger, Ahura Scientific and Thermo Fisher Scientific.
Most recently, John held the position of Director of Federal Government Programs at Thermo Fisher Scientific’s Portable Analytical Instrument business where he generated significant growth across multiple product platforms.
He was part of the original Ahura Scientific sales team that successfully launched the first handheld Raman and FTIR spectrometers, and he has been successful in developing markets for multiple new technologies and solutions to the safety and security market including federal agencies, military organizations, and civilian emergency responders.
John graduated from West Virginia University and served in the United States Marine Corps.
908 Devices Takes Home the Gold in 2021 ‘ASTORS’ Awards Program
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New to the Annual ‘ASTORS’ Awards Program, the MX908 is a multi-mission handheld mass spectrometer for Chemical/Biological/Radiation/Nuclear/Explosive detection which can identify compounds at trace levels with a high level of sensitivity and selectivity, to provide elite responders conducting chemical, explosive, priority drug, and HazMat operations actionable intelligence fast.
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(Learn More about 908 Devices from CEO Kevin Knopp as he reviews the company’s second-quarter earnings, which exceeded forecasts on both top and bottom line. They also raised FY21 sales guidance ahead of initial forecasts, as handheld, desktop devices drove revenue this quarter. Courtesy of the TD Ameritrade Network and YouTube.)
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