Termination with extreme prejudiceToxicologist: Lab with “military capability” likely made poison used on Russian ex-spy
British investigators have announced that a “nerve agent” was used in an attempt to murder Russian former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. But they have not specified what nerve agent was used in the attack. Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology and a member of the British government’s advisory group on chemical warfare agents, said about the likely source of the toxic substance: “I think it’s more a case in which we are talking about a military capability. If you are a diligent chemist, you will find procedures for making sarin and tabun and various other chemical agents. But there’s the complexity in making it and how efficient the reaction is. And, of course, there is the risk of exposure in making something, too. So containment to make sure that the laboratory person is not exposed is absolutely crucial. So I think, really, what one is looking at here is probably more a military-type manufacture. But again, we just have to wait and see.”
British investigators have announced that a “nerve agent” was used in an attempt to murder Russian former spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury on 4 March. But they have not specified what nerve agent was used in the attack.
RFE/RL’s Ron Synovitz spoke on 8 March about the case with Alastair Hay, a professor of environmental toxicology at the University of Leeds and a member of the British government’s advisory group on chemical warfare agents.
Ron Synovitz: When you consider all the symptoms reported by witnesses who discovered Sergei Skripal and his daughter incapacitated on a bench in Salisbury, and the fact that a first respondent police officer was also exposed, does this information point specifically to any particular nerve agent?
Alastair Hay: It’s a laboratory investigation now that has identified the nerve agent. And it was [Britain’s] chemical defense establishment. They are very accomplished. The government has said it is not one of the more common [nerve] agents. So what they’re essentially ruling out is sarin and VX. [Nerve agents] that you hear less about in the news are tabun and soman. I think it is, possibly, one of those. It could be cyclosarin. But since they said it’s not Sarin, they’re probably ruling out the Sarin-like compounds. So [of the five main nerve agents], tabun and soman are the likely candidates. Of course, there are other nerve agents as well. We’ll just have to wait and see what the final investigation reports.
Synovitz: Victims can be exposed to nerve agents through ingestion, or in the case of an aerosol compound, through inhalation or skin contact. Do you think this attack was carried out with a nerve agent in aerosol form?
Hay: At this stage, I don’t know. I was considering that it might have been an aerosol delivery because there seems to have been some residual contamination – which is why one police officer became ill. If he came into contact with a contaminated surface, he would have become ill.
Synovitz: If it was an aerosol delivery, would it have been more likely that they were exposed while they were outside walking rather than inside the restaurant or the pub they’d visited before they became incapacitated?
Hay: More likely, but I have to reserve judgment on that.