This past week, November 8-9, 2012, Environmental Security and Sustainability (ESS) Program Director Paul Walker and Green Cross Russia President Sergei Baranovsky spoke at a major international conference on chemical safety and security in Tarnow, Poland.
There has been growing concern over the vulnerability of commercial chemical facilities to diversion of dual-use chemicals – dangerous, toxic chemicals which could be misused for weapons purposes, to major accidents such as we saw in Bhopal, India in 1984, to natural disasters, and to terrorist attack. (The Bhopal accident released methyl isocyanate and other chemicals, killing over 4,000 people immediately, many thousands more over several weeks, and injuring over 500,000.)
The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which Green Cross has worked with for fifteen years, organized this two-day conference in cooperation with the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Tarnow, a small city on southeast Poland, was chosen as the conference site because of its important chemical industry nearby. Both Baranovsky and Walker were asked to speak to the 250 attendees from over 50 countries because of their long and successful experience in facilitating and mediating the safe elimination of over 55,000 metric tons of deadly chemical agents, primarily in the US and Russia. The 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), implemented by the OPCW since its 1997 entry-into-force, not only is tasked with abolishing all chemical weapons stockpiles globally, but with promoting peaceful uses of chemistry. The conference was very important in pointing out that there are some 5,000 chemical facilities today in dozens of countries which are capable of producing dual-use chemicals. It is increasingly important that all such facilities be inspected by OPCW inspectors and that minimum international standards for safety and security be established to help prevent major accidents, terrorist attacks, and natural catastrophes.
A new International Center on Chemical Safety and Security (ICCSS) was established at the conference, and Walker was chosen to be on the founding Advisory Board of the Center.
The ESS Program has long promoted and facilitated the safe and irreversible elimination of chemical weapons stockpiles and the remediation of land contaminated by toxic pollution.