Since the First World War the countries of the world have come together to stop the use of chemical weapons. There are today 189 signatories to the international Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (Chemical Weapons Convention). The Convention is overseen by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
The task of the OPCW is to verify compliance with the Convention through, for example, the inspection of chemical factories and arsenals, and to direct the oversight of how chemical weapons are destroyed. To support its work the OPCW has a network of 22 laboratories around the world. The only Swedish laboratory accredited by OPCW for the analysis of chemical warfare agents is located at FOI in Umeå. This entails being at constant readiness to analyse samples on behalf of OPCW. FOI’s Safety Laboratory in Umeå has the capability for detecting and verifying the identity of all chemical warfare agents and related substances in samples which are suspected of containing these chemicals.
“We are talking about a very large number of substances and the samples can cover absolutely anything from human blood and urine samples to environmental samples taken from buildings or from soil. We are naturally very proud of our success, for 17 successive years, in the annual intercalibrations and of maintaining our status as an OPCW accredited laboratory,” says Mats Strømqvist who has a doctorate in biochemistry and who heads FOI’s department for CBRN* in Umeå.
The Safety Laboratory is also accredited to the international standard ISO/IEC 17025.
“We work under very strict security constraints and are therefore not able to provide all the details of the analyses that we undertake. In fact, for all our research assignments, whether they are for business clients or for official authorities, the results are not published but are only communicated directly back to the customer,” adds Mats Strømqvist in conclusion.
* CBRN stands for Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear.