Frequently Asked Questions

How the Chemical components of the Syrian chemical warfare stockpile will be destroyed

What types of chemicals are being transported and destroyed?

The Syrian chemical warfare programme is based primarily on binary systems which means two toxic substances have to be brought together to create a highly toxic chemical warfare agent. It is these less toxic substances, comprising the bulk of the chemicals, which are being removed from Syria aboard Danish and Norwegian cargo vessels (MV Ark Futura and MV Taiko, respectively). Such toxic chemicals are routinely transported around the world and there are specific laws and regulations in place regarding their safe transportation.

The chemicals are stored in bulk containers and drums; they are not contained within bombs, shells or warheads and there are no explosives associated with them. Additional chemicals used in the Syrian chemical warfare programme are also being removed from Syria in the same way. A quantity of mustard agent has also been removed. While this is a ready-to-use chemical warfare agent, it is also stored in bulk containers and drums, not in munitions.

How are the chemicals being transported?

In Syria, the bulk containers and drums are all being securely packed and loaded into standard shipping containers. The containers are then transported to Latakia port for loading on to the Danish and Norwegian cargo ships. The Syrian authorities have received advice and support in this regard from the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Health Organization. Syrian personnel have also been trained to perform their work in accordance with the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code. The cargo ships have additional capacity to deal with chemical spills or emergencies and a special chemical response team is available, along with expert chemical response personnel from Finland.

How is the security of the transportation being ensured?

Naval vessels from Denmark, Norway, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland are providing continuous security to the cargo ships until the chemicals are off-loaded. Naval vessels from the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation are providing security to the cargo ships while in Syrian territorial waters.

How will the chemicals reach their final destinations?

Once all of the containers have been collected from Latakia and stored aboard the MV Taiko and MV Ark Futura, one of these ships will sail to the Italian port of Gioia Tauro. At the port, those shipping containers holding certain Priority 1 chemicals will be transloaded to a US ship, the MV Cape Ray. Over the last two years, Italy’s main maritime hubs for transhipment have managed every day 2,000 tons of dangerous goods stored in 120 containers, with a total of 1.4 million 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 and the port of Gioia Tauro transhipped 29,802 tons of IMDG Class 6.1 goods, for a total amount of 1,508 containers. The remaining chemicals will be transported to commercial facilities in Finland, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the United States of America for destruction. The facilities in Finland and the USA were selected through a solicitation process conducted by the OPCW.

How will the chemicals be destroyed?

Some Priority 1 chemicals will be destroyed through a two-step process. The first step, hydrolysis, will occur at sea on board the MV Cape Ray. The chemicals will not be dumped or buried in the sea at any stage, and therefore no chemicals will be released  into the environment. The US Department of Defense has installed two Field Deployable Hydrolysis Systems [PDF - 3.24 MB] (FDHS) on board the MV Cape Ray, which have been designed on the basis of technology used over the past four decades in the US chemical weapons destruction programme to hydrolyse chemical warfare agents. The FDHS uses water, sodium hydroxide (NaOH), sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl) and heat to hydrolyse the chemicals with 99.9 percent effectiveness. All of the effluent resulting from the hydrolysis process will be safely stored on board the MV Cape Ray.

What will happen to the other priority chemicals and to the waste products from the hydrolysis process?

The remaining chemicals removed from Syria, and the effluent produced by the hydrolysis process on board the MV Cape Ray, will be destroyed at commercial facilities. For this purpose, the OPCW published a Call for Proposals for Transport, Treatment and Disposal of Hazardous and Non-Hazardous Organic and Inorganic Chemicals, Effluents and Related Materials. A total of 14 companies submitted bids to undertake this work and, following technical and commercial evaluation of the bids, the preferred bidders were announced on 14 February 2014 and contracts have been signed with two companies – Ekokem Oy Ab from Finland and Veolia Environmental Services Technical Solutions from the USA. The government of the United Kingdom has already announced that two Priority 1 chemicals will be transported to the UK for destruction in a commercial facility at Ellesmere Port. The government of Germany has announced that the effluent created by the hydrolysis of one of the Priority 1 chemicals aboard the MV Cape Ray, will be destroyed at a government facility in Germany.

Will any chemicals be dumped in the sea?

No chemicals or effluents will be dumped in the sea at any stage of the removal and destruction process. Destruction of the chemicals at sea will be in full accordance with international law, including applicable requirements prohibiting the dumping or other discharge of pollutants into ocean waters. In addition, the dumping of chemical weapons in any body of water is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention’s Verification Annex (see Part IV(A), para 13), which prohibits “dumping in any body of water, land burial or open pit burning”.

Furthermore, Article IV, para 10 of the Convention states that "Each State Party, during transportation, sampling, storage and destruction of chemical weapons, shall assign the highest priority to ensuring the safety of people and to protecting the environment.  Each State Party shall transport, sample, store and destroy chemical weapons in accordance with its national standards for safety and emissions."

A complementary fact sheet on “environment and health protection” is available on the OPCW-UN Joint Mission website.

Contact OPCW Media

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