Home Podcasts THMG130 – Novichok

THMG130 – Novichok


In this episode, Bob and Mike explore Novichok, which has been in the news lately.

Complete Show Notes

3:30 Incident That Grabbed Bob’s Attention

  • Nerve agent attack in Salisbury, England that affected Sergei Skripal and his daughter
  • Skripals believe a military nerve agent was used in their home – both are in critical condition
  • Over 500 interviews are being conducted at the moment
  • Point of contact appears to be the home’s front door
  • There’s a lot of conjecture about the sources of the nerve agent

9:05 What is Novichok?

  • Novichok is listed in the Class Index C04 section of nerve agents in the North American Emergency Response Guidebook (2000 version)
  • Originally developed by the Soviet Union – minimal information is available
  • What are nerve agents?
    • Disrupt the function of the nervous system by interfering with the enzyme acetylcholinesterase
    • Major effects seen in the skeletal muscles, certain targeted organs, and the central nervous system
  • The effects of Novichok are 5-8 times more effective than VX
  • Considered a binary agent – combines two “non-toxic” components, so they’re hard to detect or identify in their separate states
  • Vapor density is heavier than air, which means it will sink
  • Can also be absorbed into materials, which means it’s difficult to remove – anything it comes into contact with continues to generate vapors
  • No data is available about Novichok’s solubility or specific gravity

17:30 Novichok Detection Methods

  • Colorimetric tubes
    • Made to qualitatively detect vapors – only gives gradients, so there’s nothing concrete as to where the line is
    • Use the ones that measure for phosphoric acid esters
  • Consider using the PID (photo ionization detector) or FID (flame ionization detector), too
  • AP4C
    • Organophosphates contain phosphorous and may also contain sulfur, nitrogen, and even fluorine (depending on their make-up)
  • Mass spectrometry
    • You may also pick up Novichok with a mass spec unit, but keep in mind that the agent might not be in the library
    • That means you’ll need to send in the sample to the lab and wait for analysis
  • A common problem is the lack of quantity of the substance, which makes it hard for some tests to pick up

22:20 PPE Selection

  • Level A ensemble is recommended – no structural firefighting gear unless fire is involved
  • NFPA 1991 and NFPA 1994 (Class 3 and higher) ensembles are tested against chemical warfare agents
  • NFPA 1991 represents traditional Level A garments
  • NFPA 1994 represents several traditional Level B garments (cross-certified to NFPA 1992), as well as newer breathable garments
  • Unless a splash suit (Level B, NFPA 1992) is cross-certified to NFPA 1994 Class 2, it likely hasn’t been challenged with chemical agents
  • Remember that most materials pass the challenge at the material level – the seams and interfaces pose the hardest challenges
  • All of these ensembles are also particulate tight, which brings about another advantage

28:10 Decontamination

  • Remove clothing from affected individuals and wash them with soap and water
  • If the eyes appear contaminated, rinsing with saline or water is recommended
  • Standard decontamination materials for equipment used by the Department of Defense are oxidants (like Dahlgren Decon)
  • Dahlgren’s active ingredient is peracetic acid, which has excellent oxidation capabilities
  • For area decon (i.e. non-sensitive equipment), you might use HTH since household bleach won’t be strong enough to decon in a timely fashion

30:05 Signs and Symptoms

  • Pinpointing of pupils (similar to that seen with opioids)
  • Extreme nasal discharge (and other secretions)
  • Difficulty breathing – shortness of breath or chest tightness
  • Lethal amounts cause loss of consciousness and convulsions within 30 seconds

32:40 Treatment

  • Remove clothing and wash with soap and water
  • If the agent has gotten into the eyes, irrigate with water or 0.9% saline for at least 15 minutes
  • If the agent gets into open wounds, irrigate with water or 0.9% saline for at least 10 minutes
  • If breathing is difficult, administer oxygen – ventilation may be difficult due to airway constriction and the presence of secretions
  • Administer atropine and 2-PAM chloride as soon as possible – if 2-PAM chloride isn’t immediately available, administer atropine alone
  • Diazepam may be required to prevent or control convulsions, but only if they’re within 40 minutes of exposure or if its effectiveness declines
  • Remember to always treat the symptoms
  • If you suspect the exposure could be intentional, contact your nearest FBI office and the state authorities to activate Civil Support Teams

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