CBRNe News from the World

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AMERICAS

The US Lehigh County police investigated a chemical spill that took place on 1 May at the South Whitehall manufacturing plant, Pennsylvania, after citizens complained of a fabric softener smell in the air. The leakage came from the GEO company, which produces more than 300 products including, among others, chemicals for water treatment; dispersants; coating and resin additives. Police and first responders issued a two-hour shelter in place order for dwellers within a one-mile radius of the plant. The Lehigh County Special Ops Hazardous Materials unit, together with the Woodlawn Fire Department, the Palmer Township Municipal Fire department and the Allentown paramedics cooperated to contain the spill and conduct a cleanup. Nearly 2,000 responders from the Pueblo County participated in the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program (CSEPP) in Pueblo, Colorado, on 4 May. The exercise scenario involved a simulated chemical incident at the U.S. Army Pueblo Chemical Depot and another non-related emergency within Pueblo County which required the activation and coordination of several Emergency Operations Centers, the Pueblo Community Joint Information Center, decontamination and treatment facilities, the American Red Cross and the Colorado division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

On May 5, a soldier from the Colorado 71st Ordnance Group developed a rapid deployment command and control system that reduces the deployment time to hotspots as it takes about 15 minutes to set up and half the space of other EOD units. Using equipment already available in their group, Cpl. Roemisch created the Mobile Expedient Tactical Operations Center kit (MET-K). The MET-K is being tested and will run a proof of concept during the annual all-Army EOD Team of the Year competition on Fort Carson, Colorado, from 16 to 20 May. The MET-K will allow the 71st EOD Group to capture essential data to improve its design, for instance, its setup and teardown time, power supply analysis, scalability, and mobility.

On 13 May, two maintenance workers passed away in Los Angeles after exposure to fentanyl. The Los Angeles Fire Department (LAFD)’s hazmat unit was deployed to the scene, an apartment building where they were reportedly working. The cause of death is still unknown, pending investigation.

On 16 May, British Columbia employer Teck Metals Ltd. has been fined for not placing adequate safety provisions to its employees during a liquid anhydrous ammonia accident. The spill took place when loss of containment occurred from a railcar at an unloading area and some workers were exposed to the ammonia vapor. The subsequent inspection carried out by WorkSafeBC found out that the company neither trained nor adequately communicated its workers clear and safe work procedures for identifying and responding to ammonia leaks, which can cause death and life-threatening accumulation of fluid in the lungs if inhaled, and skin irritation when in contact with the skin.

EUROPE

It was reported earlier this month that Ukrainian civilians remain at great peril of being maimed or killed by the landmines scattered across the country and nearby villagers by Russian-led forces. Some of the ordnance entails too much of a risk to be removed by hand, being of the utmost importance to count on safer deactivation methods. Up to 10-30% of the explosive weapons deployed in the country do not explode or are abandoned, meaning that it is also needed to strengthen the recognition skills of Ukrainian forces. More than 80 thousand mines and explosive devices have been located, recorder and removed as for now according to Ukrainian national authorities, supported by the Mine Action Information Management and the Genera International Centre for Humanitarian Demining, yet 300,000 hectares around Kyiv need to be thoroughly inspected.

On 7 May, Berlin criminal investigators and prosecutors with the support of German sappers destroyed a device reportedly found at a residential building housing staff from Russian news agency RIA in Berlin’s Steglitz district. The motivation behind the placement of such device there is currently under investigation, the police and city state’s prosecutor declared at their joint statement. The Russian foreign ministry and its embassy to Germany confirmed the presence of an improvised device, also saying that a bottle had been thrown through a window of the apartment block and that EU and NATO states should protect Russian journalists abroad from Western harassment. On 9 May, the Queen Elizabeth II Centre and Westminster School were evacuated, with Westminster underground station closed as a result of a police operation to conduct controlled explosions after reports of a suspicious vehicle near Westminster Abbey. The emergency services dealt with the evacuations. The British police later stated they were standing down an investigation. A bottle of chemical fell and broke in the chemical storage of the Ysgol Syr Hugh Owen, a secondary school from Wales on 9 May, sparking the evacuation of the building and the on-scene treatment of seven patients by the emergency services. Nobody required hospital treatment. The North Wales police assisted with traffic management whilst the scene was commanded by the fire service. A rapid response vehicle and emergency ambulance were deployed as a precautionary measure.

AFRICA

Nigerian security forces continue their counterterror operations against the terrorist groups of Boko Haram and Islamic State of the West African Province (ISWAP), killing 6 of their insurgents in Borno on 6 May. The terrorists bumped into an IED laid by Nigerians soldiers that knew of their presence in the Northeast of Borno State.

Senegalese soldiers graduated UN Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Basic course on May 3, which was part of the training they received by US Army Soldiers from the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force, Africa (SETAF-AF) at the Centre de Formation Deminage Bataillon de Soutien du Genie Bargney Senegal at the end of the month of April. Senegalese forces may seek to scale up their participation in UN peacekeeping operations and in trainings for other African soldier after acquiring capabilities from the US Army. The SETAF-AF assisted Senegalese forces in creating a three-levels EOD program – basic, intermediate, and advanced - to train EOD specialists to safely counter IEDs in domestic and international contexts, becoming the first trainers of trainers in the region. Terrorist groups could spread operations to states like Togo, as warned by security analysts after the deadly attack to eight Togolese soldiers in the northern part of the country on 11 May. The soldiers were ambushed while in their post in the Kpendjal prefecture, a nearby area to powder keg Burkina Faso. Security experts believe the attack was carried out by a local al-Qaeda affiliate based in Mali and spread into Burkina Faso, Niger, and neighboring Benin.

The rare human monkeypox virus, usually detected in the African continent, has spread to at least 11 non-African countries throughout the month of May, with over 257 confirmed cases worldwide as of 30 May. The World Health Organization (WHO) strengthened its surveillance mechanism and expects to contain the virus outside of Africa due to the reduced number of cases. There are already vaccines and treatments available to curb its spread. It is still unclear if it can spread asymptomatically.

MIDDLE EAST

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) revealed on 5 May that Iraq is one of the most polluted countries when it comes to explosive munitions, stating that the lives of 8.5 million Iraqis are endangered on a daily basis by deadly mines and unexploded remnants from the war. The remnants are spread across 3,200 square kilometers of land and have already cases 700 deaths between 2018 and 2020. On 13 May, the EU envoy for Iran talks, Enrique Mora, was sent on a two-days mission to Iran in the latest bid to unblock negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme. Disagreements over the US decision to include Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in its list of terrorist groups were the main predicament in negotiation talks according to the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who also stated that prospects for a final deal were still possible. The EU envoy was retained for an unknown period of time by the German police on his way back to Brussels, with German authorities not providing any explanation for it.

Kurdish female deminers have been deployed for the first time in Iraqi Kurdistan’s border areas to counter explosive threats as part of the Mine Advisory Group (MAG) work, as reported on 17 May by a Kurdish news agency. The deminers undertook a six-week training course prior to their missions, which aim at clearing around 3,000 minefields in the Kurdistan Region and millions of unexplode landmines and explosive ordnances alongside the Iranian-Kurdish border.

ASIA

Earlier this month, Indian security forces defused three IEDs in the Jharkhand’s West Singhbhum district that were hidden under stones by the Maoist group CPI in the Maktulor jungle. The operation was conducted by the CRPF and district armed force. Each IED weighted 5 kg and were aimed at security personnel.

On 9 May, Indian Punjab Police arrested two individuals with an IED packed with around 1.5kg of RDX at the Naushehra Pannuan village in the Tarn Taran district. The IED itself had a gross weight of more than 2.5kg and was equipped with a timer, detonator, battery and sharpnels. The Punjab remains a conflict area as three IEDs packed in a metallic case and one pistol were seized after a raid in Karnal on 6 May.

On 10 May, a chemical spill was detected at the Malaysian Tuaran District. The Tuaran Fire and Rescue Station found out about the dumping of chemical waste by using a hazmat detector upon receiving an emergency call. The Sabah Department of Chemistry took water samples at two locations within a radius of two kilometers for thorough analysis.

The US Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) concluded on 13 May its two-week training course with the Philippine Bureau of Fire Protection (BFP) on countering weapons of mass destruction from a first responders’ standpoint. The over 100 attendees participated in a mock Chemical, Biological, Radioactive and Nuclear (CBRN) scenario in Manila, where BFP officers improved their planning and implementation skills (e.g., air monitoring, decontamination, evidence gathering, victim rescue, improved device awareness). Previous US capacity building action includes a training on biological threats to better detect and manage diseases such as naturally occurring anthrax outbreaks. Future action may involve training on a mass-casualty decontamination system, virtual CBRN awareness courses, and multinational training events for BFP officers to the US and other countries.

OCEANIA

Twenty-three-liter drums of hydrochloric acid were gushed onto the James Ruse Drive at Sydney on 5 May, eroding part of the road, sending a cloud of vapor into the air (“off-gassing”), and causing traffic delays. The toxic and corrosive acid fell from a truck, damaging the road and provoking traffic chaos. The Fire and Rescue specialized chemical recovery crews arrived on the scene, wearing protective equipment to neutralize the agent, and setting an exclusion zone.

On 6 May, Pacific NGOs under the representation of The Collective called on the Japanese Government and the Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings (TEPCO) to back down from their plans to discharge radioactive nuclear waste into the Pacific Ocean beginning of 2023. The Japanese fishery industry and other leaders from the Pacific area are also opposed to that decision, as dumping over 1.28 million tons of radioactive waste would have unexpected consequences despite the assurances in TEPCO’s Radiological Impact Assessment report. The Collective argued that Japan’s plans is in breach of the Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty and the London Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution. It was disclosed on 15 May that researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) have designed a patent-pending particle separation technology that may speed up radiological and chemical cleanup activities. Other industrial uses for this technology might be food processing, aerosol science and supercritical fluids, among others. In their testing of simulated waste, the PNNL separated the raw solid and liquid waste on a particle size basis. The disruptive potential of this separator relies on the fact that it was able to bring apart relatively large particles (about 1 centimeter) out of process streams at high flow rates, concretely, at up to 90 gallons per minute. The separator works both horizontally and vertically, including top-down and bottom-up flows.

New Zealand officials from the Tairāwhiti marine oil spill team, the Gisborne District Council, Fire and Emergency (FENZ) and the Marine Pollution Response Service performed a training exercise on 17 May, whose main purpose was to test a recently acquired skimmer whilst strengthening capability in the event of an oil spill. To carry out the exercise, they used the FENZ’s hazmat truck.