Communications Centre
Environment and Health Protection

SPECIALIST FACTSHEET 2
ENVIRONMENTAL AND HEALTH PROTECTION


1. What measures are being taken to ensure that environmental protection in the elimination of Syrian Chemical weapons?

 

All States that are involved in the transportation or destruction of Syrian chemical weapons material are responsible to ensure that their operations afford/meet the highest environmental protection and adhere fully to relevant national and international environmental laws.

  

Under the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), there are clear obligations to ensure environmental protection in the process of destruction of chemical weapons.

 

In addition to national and international obligations, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) has been providing specialist environmental advice and support and is active on the ground. Experts from UNEP have met with officials of the Syrian Arab Republic in Damascus and are following up with relevant ministries concerning related environmental issues. In addition, UNEP visited the Danish transport vessel and the two naval vessels that will be involved in transport of the chemicals for final treatment and disposal.

Motor vessel Cape Ray2.
 What is the environmental risk of transporting chemical materials by road through Syria?

As per the declaration made by Syrian Arab Republic to the OPCW, most of the substances to be transported are not the final toxic chemical agents but rather precursor chemicals. Transportation of such chemicals by road or ship occurs on a regular basis around the world and will follow established guidelines for their safe transport. The provision of appropriate security for the movement of the convoys on the ground is widely recognized as a priority by all parties involved. 

3. What are the capabilities to deal with any spill during the land transportation move?

The Syrian authorities are responsible for the ground transportation of the chemicals. They have built into their plan appropriate spill response procedures. These include the provision of specialist decontamination equipment and personnel to travel with the chemical material throughout its ground journey.

4. Will applicable national and international environmental laws be adhered to?

Yes. All operations to transport and destroy chemical materials will be conducted in accordance with relevant national and international laws. Additionally the CWC has clauses and regulations to ensure that all activity conducted under its auspices are done so in a way that does not cause public health or environmental risk. 

5. What is the environmental risk of transporting chemical materials by sea?

The environmental risk due to transport over the sea is extremely low. With the exception of one agent which is a fraction of the total quantity, the chemicals are not highly toxic chemical warfare materials, but industrial chemicals. Chemicals of this nature are transported in the hundreds of thousands of tons all around the world. The chemicals being moved out of Syria are contained within small tanks (a maximum volume of one cubic meter). These will be specially packed for transportation conforming to the requirements of the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Codes. The packed storage tanks are further placed within shipping containers to minimize risk. All containers will be tracked via GPS to the port of embarkation. They will be sealed, inspected, X-rayed and verified prior to loading on board the cargo ships.

6. What are the capabilities to deal with any spill during the sea transportation move?
The cargo vessels that will be used to remove chemical weapons from Syria are equipped for transport of dangerous (toxic) goods. The vessels provided by the Governments of Denmark and Norway, that will be moving the chemicals out of Syria, have mandated additional on-board capacity, also with support from Finland. A special chemical response team is on board the Danish and Norwegian escort vessels to deal with any chemical spills or emergencies. Naval escort vessels provided by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China also have the capabilities to address environmental concerns and the coordination among the maritime group provided by UN member states ensures a safe passage of chemical weapons out of Syria.

7. What are some of the technologies for destruction of chemical weapons?
Destruction methodology depends on the type of chemicals, degree of processing, location of treatment and cost implications. Treatment approaches can be broadly classified into chemical destruction (hydrolysis) and thermal destruction (incineration). 

In chemical destruction, the chemical substance is mixed with another chemical, including water, to dilute, chemically degrade or neutralize the substance so it becomes chemically inactive. The process leaves behind degradation by-products and large quantities of liquid effluents. Thermal destruction, on the other hand, burns the chemicals, at a high temperature breaking these down into gaseous components. Both processes ensure that the chemical substances are no longer useable as chemical weapons nor can they be reengineered into chemical weapons.

8. Where will the chemical materials be destroyed?
Different chemicals will be destroyed in different locations. The majority of the ‘priority’/ materials will be processed onboard the MV Cape Ray by a Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS). Once these chemical materials have all been destroyed, the by-product termed as ‘effluent’ will then be shipped to a chemical plant in Germany for further treatment and destruction. The UK will also destroy, at a commercial disposal facility, a significant part of the priority chemicals. The remaining materials will be disposed of by commercial parties. The selection of these companies is subject to a tender process that is being run by the OPCW and is due to conclude in early February 2014. In all cases, the processing and destruction of chemical material will be conducted in accordance with appropriate national and international laws.

9. What is the MV Cape Ray and what is an FDHS?
The MV Cape Ray is a cargo vessel which has been specifically fitted for this mission. The Field Deployable Hydrolyses System (FDHS) is a portable chemical plant that destroys chemical agents through hydrolyses. There have been extensive measures undertaken by the US government (who own the vessel) to ensure the maximum levels of safety, security and environmental protection in the operation of the MV Cape Ray and of the FDHS.

10. Why operate the FDHS at sea and not in land?
The destruction of Syrian CWs follows a routine procedure that is conducted regularly by a number of State Parties to the CWC. Neutralizing chemical material at sea will be the fastest way to destroy the chemical materials given the tight timelines established by the OPCW Executive Council and UN Security Council decisions. It should be noted that neutralization at sea will be conducted in a closed environment, with no waste products being introduced into the water or the atmosphere.  The waste product will be safely stored and securely transported to a waste facility for processing.

11. Where will the materials be loaded onto the MV Cape Ray?
The Italian Government announced on 16th January 2014 that the transshipment of chemical materials from the Danish cargo vessel to the MV Cape Ray will take place at the port of Gioia Tauro.

12. What experience does Italy and Italian ports have with transshipment of dangerous goods?
Over the last two years, Italy’s main maritime hubs for transhipment have managed an average of 2000 tons of dangerous goods stored in 120 containers every day, with a total of 1,400,000 tons of dangerous goods stored in more than 80,000 containers. In 2013 these Italian ports handled more than 74,000 tons of IMDG Class 6.1 dangerous goods.  In 2013 the port of Gioia Tauro transhipped 29,802 tons of IMDG Class 6.1 goods, for a total amount of 1508 containers.