Rice U. professor available to discuss report on April chemical attack in Syria

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HOUSTON – (July 9, 2018) – Rice University chemist James Tour is available to discuss Friday’s interim report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) that determined chlorine — and not a nerve agent — was used in the April 7 attack on the Syrian city of Douma.

The attack reportedly killed at least 70 people in Douma and led to retaliatory missile strikes a week later on a scientific research center and several military sites in Syria by the U.S., France and the U.K. The OPCW report does notidentify who is responsible for the alleged attacks on Douma.

What was noticeable from the pictures and reports disseminated from the site on April 7 was that chlorine cylinders had been opened or exploded, yet those are not chemical weapons used by nation states, at least for the past 100 years,” Tour said. “Those are signs of terrorist-like attacks, not military operations. And the injured were maimed primarily by the munition explosions with some mild chlorine exposure, but there certainly were no signs of exposure to nerve agents like sarin.”

Tour noted that no evidence for nerve-agent use was made available to the public prior to the retaliatory attacks. “And there has been no evidence cited in the recent OPCW report, either,” he said. “It further frustrates those of us who were so bewildered by the initial claims of nerve-agent use that triggered the air strikes.”

Tour is Rice’s T.T. and W.F. Chao Professor of Chemistry as well as a professor of computer science and of materials science and nanoengineering. He gained expertise in chemical weapons while serving on the Defense Science Study Group sponsored by the federal Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency prior to the 2001 attacks on the U.S., and the Defense Science Board.

Tour argued for restrictions on the purchase of key chemicals to make weapons in a 2000 article in Chemical and Engineering News, later covered by Scientific American.

To schedule an interview with Tour, contact Mike Williams, senior media relations specialist at Rice, at 713-348-6728 or mikewilliams@rice.edu.

The OPCW interim fact-finding report on the Douma attack is available at https://www.opcw.org/fileadmin/OPCW/S_series/2018/en/s-1645-2018_e_.pdf.

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CAPTION: Professor James Tour. (Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University)

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