Lawrence Livermore National Lab chemists prepare for proficiency exam to test chemical weapons

Chemists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) will spend the next month and a half preparing for an exam that will certify the laboratory to test for chemical weapons, a task it has been certified to do since 2003.

Taken in October by chemists a part of the laboratory’s Forensic Science Center (FSC), the approximately two-week-long environmental proficiency exam is issued by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), which oversees compliance for the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty. For the test, scientists need to identify “suspected” chemical weapons compounds.

To retain their OPCW certification, the laboratory must maintain a three-year rolling average of at least two “A” grades and one “B” in the ongoing tests. Last fall, the FSC chemists scored an “A” grade for the 10th straight year.

In the 2019 exam scenario, researchers were able to correctly identify nine reportable spiked chemicals of the samples shipped to the FSC laboratory. The samples for last year’s proficiency test, taken by LLNL and 18 other laboratories around the world, were prepared by the TNO Laboratory of The Netherlands. The participating laboratories’ test reports were then evaluated by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory from the United Kingdom, according to an online article issued by LLNL.
However, this year poses additional complications for the laboratory because of SARS-CoV-2.

“Our group meetings are very important for us to share ideas and to solve challenges from the samples as we identify them. We’ve reserved an auditorium to accommodate social distancing,” said Armando Alcaraz, the principal investigator for the Laboratory’s OPCW efforts since 2001.

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, the chemists are prepared to tackle threats of chemical attacks.

“LLNL stands ready to respond 24/7 to assist the OPCW on helping to prevent the use of chemical weapons through its verification capabilities as an OPCW-designated laboratory,” he said.

FSC is part of the Global Security Principal Directorate and is funded by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Nuclear Verification.

The other U.S.-designated laboratory is the Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland-based U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command Chemical Biological Center (formerly Edgewood Chemical Biological Center).

Claudia Adrien

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