International top marks for the Spiez Laboratory
Bern, 17.09.2015 - Every year, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) tests existing and possible new laboratories for OPCW certification with two inter-laboratory proficiency tests. The Spiez Laboratory of the DDPS has once again successfully completed the latest proficiency test. Spiez Laboratory is thus one of only five institutions in the world that have been able to permanently maintain their status as designated OPCW laboratory. Furthermore, of the five top laboratories the Spiez Laboratory received the best overall performance ratings.
The Spiez Laboratory has been a designated laboratory of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) since 1998. 19 institutes from 17 member states participated in the latest OPCW proficiency test. Once again, the Spiez Laboratory of the Swiss Federal Office for Civil Protection was able to correctly identify all chemicals relevant to the CWC contained in the samples and obtained thus the highest rating. Only two other participating laboratories achieved top marks as well.
The inter-laboratory test (Proficiency Test PT-37) took two weeks and was carried out from 21 April to 5 May 2015. Detection and identification of the C-weapon relevant compounds in the samples greatly challenged the analysts: Samples were contaminated with a variety of interfering chemicals and the concentrations of the chemicals sought were minute. Furthermore, for some of the chemicals concealed in the samples no data was available in any of the extensive databases. Therefore, the Spiez Laboratory’s team of experts only succeeded in reliably identifying all the compounds through relentless detective work, utilising a wide range of analytical techniques - including high-resolution mass spectrometry (procedure for measuring the mass of atoms and molecules) - as well as the capability of the Spiez Laboratory to rapidly and efficiently synthesise its own reference chemicals for correct identification.
Worldwide network of designated laboratories
The OPCW is responsible for compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention and has at its disposal a worldwide network of designated laboratories for the analysis of inspection samples. If the Organisation, as in 2013 after the poison gas attacks in Damascus, takes samples within the context of an international mission, it has these samples analysed by its designated laboratories for the presence of chemical warfare agents and related compounds. To ensure that the OPCW can always rely on a pool of well prepared and competent analysts, it regularly tests its designated laboratories with demanding inter-laboratory proficiency tests: To be eligible for designation a laboratory must have ISO accreditation, participate annually in at least one of the two tests and perform outstandingly in three successive tests.
2013 Syria Mission
In 2003, Spiez Laboratory was one of the four designated OPCW laboratories that tested samples from the UN/OPCW Syria Mission for the presence of the nerve agent Sarin and its degradation products. In view of ongoing concerns about chemical weapons use in the Middle East, the capabilities of OPCW designated laboratories and the chemists in Spiez will remain important for international verification.
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