Officials from Britain and Russia are still fighting over who exactly poisoned former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok. But whoever did it, one thing is certain: The cleanup is costing a lot of money and labor as the UK combs through every blade of grass that might have been contaminated.
As the BBC reports, the Novichok is believed to have been in liquid form and smeared on a door handle at the Skripal family home. But Sergei and Yulia didn’t drop over sick immediately after first contact. They went to a restaurant and were ultimately found unconscious on a nearby bench in Salisbury on March 4th.
All of the areas that Sergei and Yulia touched need to be inspected and cleaned with a “caustic agent” because Novichok doesn’t just evaporate over time. To make matters even more complicated, British authorities will have to inspect all of the areas where the Skripals were taken to receive medical treatment. This is no small project, as you can imagine. From the BBC:
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said the highest concentration of military grade Novichok nerve agent was found at Mr Skripal’s house, but eight other sites are known, or thought, to be contaminated.
They include ambulance stations and a police car compound, as well as a Zizzi restaurant and the Mill pub, where the Skripals spent time on the day they fell ill.
The cleanup is expected to take months and cost millions of pounds, despite the fact that UK officials insist that risk to the public is low. Roughly 200 military personnel are assisting in the investigation and cleanup and they plan to be incredibly thorough. Again, from the BBC:
Grass and stones will be removed from public areas around the Maltings shopping centre, and all material found to be contaminated will be incinerated.
Russian officials continue to deny that the country had anything to do with the poisoning of Sergei and his daughter, though much of the western world kicked out diplomats from Moscow in solidarity with the UK. The Kremlin retaliated by kicking out diplomats from those countries as well.
The Russian embassy in the UK has said that Novichok is “very unstable” is actually prone to “quickly decomposing in open air conditions.” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also denies that Novichok (which they deny even producing) could still be in the environment and says that any samples of Novichok collected by the UK wouldn’t be in “pure form.”
Kremlin-backed media continue to float conspiracy theories about the poison, claiming that the UK was actually behind the attack on the ex-spy to make Russia look bad. But no matter who’s telling the truth, it seems that the New Cold War is going to keep chugging along as Russia and NATO-allied countries battle over not just the Skirpal poisoning, but the atrocities in Syria as well.