Syrian Chemical Weapons Destruction: Update 5

There has not been much movement this week regarding the Syrian chemical weapons disposal process.  The OPCW announced at the beginning of the week that the EU had committed a further €12 million to the destruction fund.  This brings the fund to over €33 million donated voluntarily to the OPCW’s Syrian Trust Fund from over twenty countries.

UN High Commissioner for Disarmament Affairs Angela Kane confirmed on 20 February 2014 that the UN and OPCW were working towards postponing Syrian destruction deadlines.  Under the current plan, the Syrian chemical weapons must be destroyed by 30 June 2014; however, there have been inordinate delays in removing the chemicals from Syria. The Assad government claims internal security fears, but some countries including the U.S. and the UK have expressed concern that the delays are intentional.  OPCW Director-General Ahmet Uzumcu has said that 93% of the isopropanol (about 155 metric tons) has already been destroyed in Syria, but only 11% of the other chemicals have been shipped from the country as of yet.  No one is releasing specific quantity estimates, but the three shipments of chemicals out of Syria in January and February appear  to total about 125 metric tons.

Veolia Environmental Services, one of the two companies chosen by the OPCW to destroy Syrian chemicals, has announced that some of the chemicals will be shipped to southeast Texas.  Once there, they will be incinerated at the Port Arthur industrial incinerators outside of Houston.  This is where the neutralized VX nerve agents from Newport, Indiana were burned in the 2006-2007 timeframe, raising issues of environmental justice.  Other chemicals and toxic effluent will be handled at another Veolia site in Ellesmere, United Kingdom; in Muenster, Germany; and by Ekokem in Finland.

After months of discussion, it is now looking as though Green Cross International will be able to organize a dialogue/forum in Italy to reassure the public on concerns regarding the destruction of chemicals in the Mediterranean.  The project, which will most likely take place in late March or early April, will bring together chemistry, technical, and environmental experts, as well as OPCW and UN officials, to discuss the hydrolysis program that will occur aboard the MV Cape Ray, as well as the commercial demilitarization activities occurring elsewhere in Europe and the United States.