With the Syrian government’s alleged use of chemical weapons in the foreground, discussions—including within the U.S. Congress—have turned to trying to figure out what to do about it. The government is debating air strikes and other punitive measures, but any action brings with it the risk of increasing access to the very same stocks of chemical weapons says the Washington Post.
In the wake of any sudden regime collapse, efforts to find and secure stockpiles would be both a high priority and a difficult challenge,” said a recent CRS report.
The Pentagon has estimated that it would take more than 75,000 troops to secure Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, and the United States has reportedly been working with NATO to prepare for several scenarios along these lines.
Even if air strikes are carried out, says the Associated Press, they can’t be used to destroy chemical weapons facilities.
Bombing stockpiles of chemical weapons — purposely or accidentally — would likely kill nearby civilians in an accidental nerve agent release, create a long-lasting environmental catastrophe or both, five experts told The Associated Press. That’s because under ideal conditions — and conditions wouldn’t be ideal in Syria — explosives would leave at least 20 to 30 percent of the poison in lethal form.
The U.S. is largely staying away from pushing for a full military presence in Syria, says Navy Times, but if they were to put boots on the ground to try to secure and destroy Syria’s chemical weapons even that would be tricky. But, if that is the path that is tread, a new creation worked up by the U.S. Army Edgewood Chemical Biological Center should make that challenge a little bit easier. Known as the Field Deployable Hydrolysis System (FDHS), says Navy Times, the device is a mobile processing plant “designed to destroy chemical warfare agents in bulk can be up and running within 10 days of arriving on site.”
A crew of 15 people is needed to operate the system at any given time, according to the Army. The system can neutralize between five and 25 metric tons of chemicals per day, depending on the material.
…The system is “designed to convert chemical agents into compounds not usable as weapons,” Elzea wrote. “Neutralization is achieved by mixing the agent with water and other chemicals and heating it.”
More from Smithsonian.com:
If Syria Uses Chemical Weapons, Here’s How They’ll Work
How Can the U.S. Government Know If Syrian Combatants Were Affected by Sarin Gas?
Atropine Is the Simplest Treatment for Nerve Gas Attacks, And Syria Is Running Low