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Chemists against chemical weapons

Professor David Cole-Hamilton, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews and EuCheMS President, will lead more than 160,000 chemists across 32 countries this week in calling for the complete elimination of chemical weapons around the world.

This ethical mobilisation of EuCheMS membership, the Association representing chemists across Europe, comes ahead of the 100th anniversary of the first use of weapons of mass destruction during World War I. On 22 April 1915, German forces changed forever the nature of warfare when they fired more than 150 tonnes of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres in Belgium.

Until this date toxic smoke had been used occasionally in warfare, and chemical weapons had been known to include poisoned arrows or boiling tar. But never had their use caused such suffering and devastation. The Germans, perhaps as shocked as the Allies by the devastating effects of the poison gas, failed to take advantage and the Allies managed to hold most of their positions.

A century later the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) will hold an exceptional Executive Council meeting in Ypres to mark those events, attended by Professor Cole-Hamilton. The OPCW is the Nobel Prize winning body responsible for administration of the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997 which prohibits the development, production, acquisition, stockpiling, transfer or use of chemical weapons

Professor Cole-Hamilton said: “Chemists have the ability to make, control or deactivate chemical weapons, so the EuCheMS as the representative of 160,000 chemists in Europe and beyond, stands by all thinking people in deploring chemical weapons and calls for their complete elimination in all countries.”

St Andrews chemists have a long history of developing chemicals for good uses even in times of war. Former Principal, James Colquhoun Irvine worked during World War I to manufacture many of the pharmaceutical products required in the field hospitals, using natural sources such as dahlia tubers and seaweed to produce fructose and insulin, thereby saving the lives of thousands of troops in Asia Minor.

Professor Cole-Hamilton continued:

“April 22, 1915 is a date every chemist should know, as a symbol of the conduct that should never be repeated. EuCheMS calls for the ethical mobilisation of all chemists, either in academia or industry, to nurture critical thought, to act ethically, and properly to inform non-chemists about both the potential virtues and dangers of chemistry. In short; EuCheMS calls for responsible science.”

The OPCW commemorative meeting will be held on 21 April 21 2015 in the city of Ypres, and a “Ypres Declaration” will be delivered . The event will also be supplemented with an exhibition about the OPCW in the centre of Ypres.

These events form part of a wider programme of commemoration being led by the city itself, including marking the gas-line in the landscape to show where the gas cylinders hit a century ago, a ceremonial commemoration, and a “Making Peace” event. A 3-day conference will also explore how international laws can be improved, and highlight the challenges of establishing a world free from weapons of mass destruction.


Notes to news editors

Full details of the commemorative programme are available.

Find out more on the European Association of Chemical and Molecular Sciences (EuCheMS) website.

David Cole Hamilton is available for interview. Please contact the Press Office to arrange on 01334 462 167 or email proffice@st-andrews.ac.uk.

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