Modern Chemical Warfare: History, Chemistry, Toxicology, Morality, Consequences.

26 oktober 2015 19:00 – 19:00
Locatie: UHasselt, Campus Diepenbeek, Agoralaan, Diepenbeek, Vlaanderen, België
Categorie: Jong
Soort Ticket Prijs Aantal
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Lecture by Joseph Gal, Professor of Medicine and Pathology, University of Colorado School of Medicine (Dit e-mailadres wordt beveiligd tegen spambots. JavaScript dient ingeschakeld te zijn om het te bekijken.).

Chemical warfare (CWF) goes back to the antiquities, but modern CWF began during World War I (WW I) in April 1915 when the German army released 168 tons of chlorine gas on the western front near Ieper in Belgium, killing and injuring thousands of Allied (Triple-Entente) soldiers. The Allies responded in kind, and ca. 50-60 substances were used as chemical weapons (CWPs) in the war, including bromine, arsenicals, bis(2-chloroethyl) sulfide (mustard “gas”), chloropicrin (trichloronitromethane), trichloromethyl chloroformate, phosgene, hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, etc. Some of these substances are quick-acting deadly poisons, and some others are also highly toxic and often fatal. Mustard "gas" (in fact a liquid) is highly toxic, causes severe chemical burns to the respiratory tract, and was particularly devastating and terrorizing. Ca. 91 000 were killed by CWPs in WW I and over a million were injured, often with permanent debilitating effects. Overall, CWF in WW I did not produce the predicted strategic advantage nor did it provide victory. Nevertheless, its effects, physical and psychological, were severe. Moreover, evidence has been presented recently suggesting that CWF may have played a significant role in the emergence of the "Spanish" influenza pandemic of 1918-19 which killed >50 million people in 18 months. Many scientists on both sides, including eminent chemists, participated in CWPs work, e.g., F. Haber (Nobel laureate, 1918), O. Hahn (Nobel 1944), W. Nernst (Nobel 1920), G. N. Lewis, R. Adams, W. J. Pope, Harold Hartley, E. Paternò, V. Grignard (Nobel 1912), etc. But some scientists refused to participate, on moral grounds, e.g., E. Rutherford (Nobel 1908), H. Staudinger (Nobel 1953), M. Born (Nobel 1954). This history raises difficult question concerning the morality of scientist participation in the creation of weapons of mass destruction. The Hague treaties (1899, 1907) unequivocally banned poison weapons but were ignored during WW I. Since WW I, other treaties have prohibited CWPs (e.g., Geneva Protocol, 1925; Chemical Weapons Convention, 1997) but CWF has nevertheless continued unabated (often against civilian populations), e.g., by Spain (in Morocco, 1921-27), Soviet Union (Tambov rebellion, 1921), Italy (Ethiopia, 1935), Japan (China, 1938-39), US (Vietnam, 1960-70s); Iraq (1984-88), etc. New, extremely toxic CWPs (the organophosphate "nerve agent" inhibitors of acetylcholinesterase, e.g., sarin, tabun, VX, etc) have been developed and used, (e.g., in Syria, August 2013). CWF remains a grave danger in war and the public-health arena, and in 2015, the centenary of the birth of modern CWPs, this history merits examination.


Joseph Gal obtained a Ph.D. in organic chemistry at the University of California, Davis, CA, USA. He is currently professor of medicine and pathology at the University of Colorado School Medicine, and is director at the Toxicology Section of the University of Colorado Hospital Clinical Laboratories. His major scientific interests and activities are experimental research (molecular chirality and its role in pharmacology and toxicology) and the history of chemistry (Louis Pasteur's studies of chirality; history of modern chemical warfare).

Entrance fees:

  • Members of KVCV: Free
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  • Others: € 5

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The lecture will take place in auditorium H2.

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