CBRN Europe Comment on Novichok Incident

It started out as a simple report of 2 people being taken to hospital following exposure to an unknown substance on 5th March 2018. Less than 2 weeks later it is now a major international incident, involving the first known use of chemical agents in Europe since World War 2.

First responders were not aware of the cause of the problem but dealt with what they could see. As most first responders and members of the general public are not aware nor trained in CBRN, they were not aware of the danger they were putting themselves in.

First responders do just as their name implies – they respond to what they can see and deal with the highest priority problem first. In this case the breathing problems of both of the individuals (later identified as Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia).

Unfortunately, one of the responders was hospitalised, but is recovering.

Once it was realised that this was no a case of food poisoning or drug addicts, but was something more serious, then the appropriate personnel became involved.

As this was a crime scene and investigation were ongoing to identify the substance, only the very basic information was made public for obvious reasons.

Subsequently members of the public started to complain why it had taken nearly a week before advice was given to wash clothes etc. Until the substance was identified, the appropriate actions could not be identified. At the same time evidence was still being collected & collated.

Following the identification of the substance as a nerve agent, the appropriate PPE was worn and any contaminated items protected before being recovered.

Subsequently the nerve agent was further identified as a Novichok, an agent that was created to be deliberately difficult to detect and to protect against.

Work is now continuing in political, criminal & technical arenas to identify the source of the agent, how it was disseminated & the individuals involved. Based on the Litvinenko incident, this is likely to take some time and will have major repercussions on future security precautions.