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Contractors Invited To Bid On Destroying Syria's Chemical Arsenal

Faced with a series of tight deadlines for ridding Syria of its chemical weapons, the international group running the effort is asking private chemical companies to submit bids for performing the work. The cost of the project would be capped at $54 million, and the contractors must be able to receive chemicals as early as February.

NPR's Geoff Brumfiel reports for our Newscast unit:

"The Syrian government has more than 1,000 tons of chemical weapons ingredients awaiting destruction. Now, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons is offering private companies up to $54 million to destroy a major part of the stockpile."

Companies would have until Nov. 29 to submit an expression of interest in being a contractor. The OPCW's invitation to contractors also includes the requirement that they observe "internationally accepted safety and environmental regulations."

A separate OPCW document lists the names and rough amounts of 19 chemicals in question, from triethylamine to phosphorus pentasulfide and more complex chemicals.

This wouldn't be the first time private industry got involved in this sort of work, Geoff says, citing an arms expert he interviewed.

"There are companies in Europe that deal with these types of problems," says Amy Smithson of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. For example, Smithson says, private firms helped dispose of chemical weapons after World War I.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.