Reply To: OPCW Internal Whistle Blowers

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John Pretty

Thank you intp1

I thought I might just give you a little of my perspective of this as I have a degree in chemistry. I should just say though that I have never worked as a chemist and my degree was obtained 30 years ago, so my detailed knowledge may be a little rusty, but better than a layman’s nevertheless.

The idea of using “molecular chlorine” as a weapon in itself is very suspicious. As you correctly point out, it was only very briefly used as a chemical weapon in WWI. Quite honestly, it sounds about as likely as using musket balls for ammunition. It would be an extremely primitive weapon. I imagine that a number of people at the OPCW would have had private reservations about this even without looking at any evidence.

Chlorine is an extremely adaptable and useful element. It is quite literally everywhere.

Molecular chlorine is a gas and consists of two chlorine atoms bound together. It is an extremely simple compound. Like many elements it is not stable as single atoms. The most readily available source is probably bleach. The smell of bleach is essentially the smell of chlorine. You also get it at swimming baths and in disinfectants.

It also exists as common table salt in the form of “sodium chloride”. This is an inorganic compound. The sodium and chloride ions that it consists of are extremely stable. Sodium is a metal, but you will never get metallic sodium in your salt. Similarly you will never smell chlorine. Salt – sodium and chloride ions – exist in every cell of the body.

Chlorine is also present in your stomach in the form of hydrochloric acid. It is the major component of gastric acid. Fortunately the stomach is lined with other chemicals which prevent the stomach itself from being digested.

Organic compounds containing chlorine are also extremely abundant and useful, but are generally man-made and often toxic. They are often used in the manufacture of plastics for example PVC, which contains chlorine atoms bound to carbon atoms.

I cannot help but think that the great abundance of chlorine in our modern world would have made it a reasonable “sell” to gullible journalists and politicians.

    A cylinder of chlorine gas is not a chemical weapon in itself as chlorine has so many uses. By contrast a cylinder of sarin (a small but complex compound) would be a chemical weapon as sarin has no other usage except as a chemical weapon.


Chemistry is divided into three branches: Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry and Inorganic Chemistry. Put crudely, organic chemistry is the study of carbon compounds, inorganic chemistry is everything else. That may sound a little facetious, but carbon is a very special element which forms bonds with itself and with other elements in a way that no other element does. There are so many carbon compounds that it has its own branch of chemistry. To a chemist “organo” or “organic” refers to carbon compounds. Living beings (plants and animals) are carbon based.