The United States has destroyed the last stockpile of its chemical weapons. US President Joe Biden announced yesterday that the last of the officially known highly toxic warfare agents in the US had been eliminated - a milestone a good 26 years after the Convention banning chemical weapons came into force.
"I'm proud to report that the United States has safely destroyed the last ammunition in this stockpile -- bringing us one step closer to a world free of the horrors of chemical weapons," Biden said.
Chemical weapons are responsible for some of the world's most horrifying human casualties, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican, who during his tenure has spearheaded the elimination of weapons. "Though the use of these deadly agents will always remain a blot on history, today our nation has finally fulfilled its pledge to rid our arsenal of this evil." McConnell is a senator in the US state of Kentucky, where the weapons destruction facility is located.
Destroyed more than 70,000 tons of mustard gas or sarin
In 1997, the 193 states party to the Chemical Weapons Convention committed to reporting and destroying all stocks of their chemical weapons and not to using chemical weapons. The Chemical Weapons Prohibition Control Authority (OPCW), based in The Hague, controls their enforcement. More than 70,000 tons of the deadliest weapons such as mustard gas and sarin have been destroyed since 1997. In the USA, around 127 tons were still waiting to be destroyed.
Some of the most shocking attacks on humans in history have come from chemical weapons. According to the OPCW, chemical warfare agents were first used in World War I. By the end of the war, about 100,000 people had died as a result. In the past ten years, Syrian government troops have repeatedly used banned warfare agents in the civil war - more than 40 people were killed in a momentous attack in the city of Duma in 2018 alone.
OPCW inspects chemical industries in contracting states
Some of the most well-known chemical weapons are chlorine gas, mustard gas and sarin. If the pungent-smelling chlorine gas is inhaled, it attacks the airways and lungs. In high concentrations, it causes shortness of breath and ultimately painful death. The cytotoxin mustard gas burns mucous membranes, eyes and respiratory tract. Neurological disorders are also possible. Mustard gas also became known under the names lost, yperite, and yellow cross. Along with Tabun, Soman and VX, sarin is one of the most toxic nerve gases. It is absorbed by inhalation and through the skin and can cause respiratory paralysis and cardiac arrest in minutes.
If chemical weapons are suspected to have been used in conflict situations, the OPCW sends investigators to the country concerned. The authority also regularly inspects the chemical industry in contracting states. States that have not signed the convention include North Korea, Israel, Egypt and South Sudan. The OPCW was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2013 for its work. According to information from the end of May, 99 percent of all chemical weapons in the 193 signatory states have now been destroyed.