Concerns are growing that the Syrian military may be dropping bombs filled with chlorine in areas where rebels are suspected to be hiding. If the unconfirmed reports that Syrian aircraft have been using chlorine-filled bombs in the civil war are true, it is a violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty signed last year by Syria and may be considered a war crime. Amy E. Smithson, an expert on chemical weapons for the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said, “The C.W.C. prohibits the use of any chemical on the battlefield to achieve military purposes.”
Chlorine is a common industrial compound that is not currently on the list of prohibited poisons. Chlorine is generally used for cleaning purposes, like bleaching laundry and disinfecting swimming pools. Chlorine is potentially fatal, but is not nearly as efficient at killing as nerve agents and other toxins.
Chlorine was one of the original chemicals used by the Germans when they introduced the world to chemical warfare in the trenches of Europe nearly a century ago. Syria was not obliged to export its chlorine supply under its promise to renounce chemical arms because chlorine is not considered a banned substance in the Chemical Weapons Convention treaty. Both the Syrian government and the insurgent groups have publically denied the use of chlorine.
Executive director of the Arms Control Association Daryl G. Kimball said that the chlorine-filled barrel bomb allegations was “disturbing and puzzling — and it mars the good news that Syria is very close to completing the removal of its declared chemical stockpile.” Sources are reporting that about 90 percent of the chemicals in Syria’s arsenal have now been exported, leaving only a few shipments remaining. Dr. Smithson said that “the telltale sign of responsibility in this instance may be the reports that this stuff was delivered by air,” as “only the Syrian government has helos and aircraft.”