Chemical weapons expert: Bombing Syrian stockpiles may cause environmental disaster

Syrian chemical attack

Secretary of State John Kerry confirmed this past weekend that sarin gas was used in the recent Syrian chemical weapons attack. Moreover, a leaked French intelligence report indicates that President Bashar Assad has stored more than 1,000 tons more of the poison gas.

As President Obama is pushing for Congress to approve air strikes on Assad’s chemical stockpile, little has been said about the ecological disaster that could result from releasing these toxins into the atmosphere. Retired Lt. Colonel Robert Gray is an authority on chemical weapons defense and the use of improvised chemical munitions. His reasoned, methodical analysis of the potential impact on the people and environment is striking in its horror. May those in power take note.

By Robert B. Gray, LTC USA (retired)

With the President announcing his plans to attack Syria’s Chemical weapons storage and manufacturing sites, I pulled out some of my old Chemical Weapons manuals, reviewed wind patterns and checked on the locations of the sites. Following are my conclusions as to the feasibility of the plan to safely destroy the chemicals and the impact of the plan as announced.

First the sites identified in Janes, (the definitive unclassified source for military intelligence and equipment), are for the most part located near major population centers and the Mediterranean Sea. At this time of year the prevailing winds place the population centers and sea downwind of the target sites.

The attack plan using a limited number of Tomahawks will release major quantities of the Agents into the air. To destroy the agents a follow on attack with hyperbaric or fuel and air munitions are necessary. These flame weapons must be delivered within minutes of the Tomahawk strikes otherwise the chemicals will disperse and they will begin their destructive course on the wind.

Given the parameters of the planned assault, no manned bombers, the flame, incendiary weapons are not in the mix. Only manned bombers can deliver a firestorm sufficient to cover the entire site and destroy the chemicals.

Without the manned bombers the following scenario will result.

The gas clouds from sites located near the sea will be blown out over the Mediterranean were it will combine with the water and begin killing all sea life. These agents will create a dead zone in the sea covering hundreds of square miles. An ecological disaster which will surpass the damage done by the Gulf Oil Spill by several magnitudes.

Those sites which are located inland will release their cloud. Based on the prevailing winds, that cloud will float over Syria’s major population centers and farming areas. It will kill thousands of unprotected civilians. The Syrian military is trained and equipped to deal with chemical attacks. The gas will not degrade the Syrian military.

It will destroy the farmland. The gas will kill all beneficial insects, microbial life and depending on the concentrations even the enzymes which make plant growth possible.

After the gasses have completed their work on Syria, they will proceed on the winds crossing into Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The concentrations will be diluted so that it is not imminently hazardous to human and animal life. Long term effects are another question which has not been fully studied.

The cloud will be strong enough to kill insects. The beneficial insects like bees will be eliminated. Without these and other insects food production will be stopped. This area provides much of Europe’s fruits and vegetables.

In short this operation is ill conceived and will, if executed as announced, create a human and ecological tragedy which is incalculable.First the sites identified in Janes, are for the most part located near major population centers and the Mediterranean Sea.

At this time of year the prevailing winds place the population centers and sea downwind of the target sites.

The attack plan using a limited number of Tomahawks will release major quantities of the Agents into the air. To destroy the agents a follow on attack with hyperbaric or fuel and air munitions are necessary. These flame weapons must be delivered within minutes of the Tomahawk strikes otherwise the chemicals will disperse and they will begin their destructive course on the wind.

Given the parameters of the planned assault, no manned bombers, the flame,incendiary weapons are not in the mix. Only manned bombers can deliver a firestorm sufficient to cover the entire site and destroy the chemicals.

Without the manned bombers the following scenario will result.

The gas clouds from sites located near the sea will be blown out over the Mediterranean were it will combine with the water and begin killing all sea life. These agents will create a dead zone in the sea covering hundreds of square miles. An ecological disaster which will surpass the damage done by the Gulf Oil Spill by several magnitudes.

Those sites which are located inland will release their cloud. Based on the prevailing winds, that cloud will float over Syria’s major population centers and farming areas. It will kill thousands of unprotected civilians. The Syrian military is trained and equipped to deal with chemical attacks. The gas will not degrade the Syrian military.

It will destroy the farmland. The gas will kill all beneficial insects, microbial life and depending on the concentrations even the enzymes which make plant growth possible.

After the gasses have completed their work on Syria, they will proceed on the winds crossing into Lebanon, Jordan and Israel. The concentrations will be diluted so that it is not imminently hazardous to human and animal life. Long term effects are another question which has not been fully studied.

The cloud will be strong enough to kill insects. The beneficial insects like bees will be eliminated. Without these and other insects, food production will be stopped. This area provides much of Europe’s fruits and vegetables.

In short this operation is ill conceived and will, if executed as announced, create a human and ecological tragedy which is incalculable.

Robert G. Gray LTC (Retired) Army Ordnance Corps, received special training in chemical weapons, serving in multiple capacities including Technical Intelligence Officer assigned to the Pentagon’s Chief of Staff Intelligence. His expertise in chemical and hazardous materials dates back to 1975.

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