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Chemical Weapon Investigation

Chemical Weapons

Chemical Weapon #1

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Michael Fox, PhD.

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Chemical Weapon Investigation

Chemaxx and Dr. Fox were hired by an attorney who was defending a gentleman accused of developing, possessing and deploying a chemical weapon. The Chemaxx role was to assist the attorney in better understanding the chemistry issues and to review and comment on the definition of a "chemical weapon" and to review and comment on the chemical evidence collected from the scene and analyzed by the government.

The target for the chemical weapon was a private residence inside a gated community. There was also a significant amount of graffiti on the target residence.

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The Front of the Target Residence. First Responders made the hole on the left side

The exact nature of the chemical weapon will not be discussed in this summary so as to not encourage or guide anyone. However, when the chemicals reacted they produced a toxic gas.

A key issue in this investigation is the definition of a chemical weapon, which is:

"A toxic chemical and its precursors, except where intended for a purpose not prohibited under this chapter as long as the type and quantity is consistent with such purpose."

Per a government expert,

"The term toxic chemical means any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals."

Therefore, the definition of a Chemical Weapon becomes:

."Any chemical which through its chemical action on life processes can cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals and its precursors, except where intended for a purpose not prohibited under this chapter as long as the type and quantity is consistent with such purpose."

While many common, everyday chemicals, such as carbon monoxide from auto exhaust or alcohol from vodka, have the ability to "cause death, temporary incapacitation or permanent harm to humans or animals," they would not be classified as a Chemical Weapon under "normal use" because of the phrase:

"except where intended for a purpose not prohibited under this chapter as long as the type and quantity is consistent with such purpose."

Given all of the above, the definition of a Chemical Weapon is so broad that just about any chemical could be classified as a Chemical Weapon depending on the context and/or method and/or intent by which it is used. But as in the case of most toxic chemicals, the actual degree of toxicity depends on the level of exposure and the level of exposure is determined by both the concentration and the time-of-exposure.


Close-up the Garage Door Sealant

In this incident, a total of eight toxic gas measurements were made. Seven of those measurements, both outside and inside of the home, were found to be zero. The only place a positive reading was found was inside the garage. The garage door was sealed with some type of adhesive-sealant as seen in the photo above. Hence, it was never clear how the toxic gas got into the garage if the door was sealed.

In their pre-trial reports, the government experts focused solely on what is known as the level of toxic gas referred to as Immediately Dangerous to Life and Health, or the IDLH. The maximum level found inside the garage was greater than half of the IDLH, but exactly how much greater was not known. From measurement made later in the incident, it was Chemaxx's view that the initial levels were not much greater than half of the IDLH.

In their pre-trial reports, the government presented the IDLH as a level that was lethal, which it could be over a long enough period of time. In Dr. Fox's pre-trial report he pointed out that the IDLH actually means that there are 30 minutes to escape without any permanent harm. Therefore, at trial, the government's experts changed their focus to the exposure levels referred to AEGLs, or Acute Exposure Guidelines, which are much lower than the IDLH for any chemical.

The government analyzed the chemical residues collected at the scene and none were found to contain any toxic chemicals. The government experts also performed a number of chemical simulations, but never measured the concentration of the alleged toxic gas being given off. Hence, the evolution of the toxic gas was never scientifically confirmed via the government's simulations. That is not to say that there wasn't toxic gas, just that it was never measured nor confirmed. Furthermore, the government performed simulations using some chemicals for which there was no evidence of even being present in the residues that were collected. In addition, the color of the gas being given off in the simulations was not the color of the alleged toxic gas. However, the government was still allowed to present these simulations at trial.

In spite of the lack of any physical evidence that the toxic gas was produced at levels that would cause the kind of harm required by the definition of a chemical weapon, the jury found the defendant guilty of the chemical weapon charge.

Dr. Fox has a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry and is a Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator who specializes in complex industrial chemical accidents and consumer-related chemical accidents. He specializes in the reconstruction and understanding of unusual chemical accidents, fires and explosions.