*Chemical Agents and Weapons*
By: PaleHorse
25 Oct 02

One of the most terrifying aspects of terrorism today is Chemical/Biological Warfare. Today, unscrupulous people can get these nasty germs and chemicals in a variety of ways, with the intent of using them as weapons of mass destruction. Many people donít know much about chemical weapons, and rightly, fear them. I hope to shed some light on this subject and help people to understand more about different chemical weapons and how to prepare incase the need arises.

Chemical Warfare is defined as, ďchemical substances, whether gaseous, liquid, or solid, which might be employed because of their toxic effects on man, animals, or plants.Ē *

The history of chemical warfare dates back to 2000 B.C. when the ancient Indians used toxic pitch (tar or tree sap) and sulfur to weaken a cityís defenders by choking them to death. Later in 423 B.C. Spartan allies used coal, sulfur, and pitch during itís sieges on enemy cities. In 1915 Germany released 150 tons of Chlorine gas which resulted in 800 deaths. In 1917 Germany used sulfur mustard artillery shells during World War I causing 20,000 casualties. This sparked the implementation of chemical protective clothing. Between 1930 and 1940, Germany weaponized thousands of tons of nerve agents. In World War I, the United States had 71,345 casualties and 1,462 fatalities due to Chemical Weapons.

Chemical agents have several routes of entry into the body. They are: Inhalation, ingestion, absorption, and injection. This means gases or aerosols can be breathed in. Residue that has settled on food or drink products can be eaten. The agent coming into contact with the skin or mucous membranes (nose, mouth, eyes, open sores or wounds) can be absorbed into the body. Lastly the agent can be injected into the body by means of hypodermic needles or if the agent is on a sharp object and the object penetrates the skin, contamination can occur.

There are also the physical properties of Chemical agents to consider as the weather conditions can affect how long the agent will be active. Some definitions to be aware of are:

  • Vapor Density - the measure of a gasís density in relationship to air. Air has a vapor density of 1. If a vapor is heavier than air it has a vapor density of greater than one, and if itís lighter than air it has a vapor density of less than one.
  • Vapor Pressure - the measure of the pressure needed for a substance to evaporate. It is also measured with temperature because the measure of vapor pressure and temperature are directly proportional.
  • Volatility - the rate at which a substance evaporates.
  • Persistency - how long an agent effects the body.
  • Hydrolysis - how an agent reacts with water.
  • Rate of Detoxification - how long it takes to detoxify an agent.
  • Rate of Action - How quickly an agent begins to have effects on a person.
  • Toxicity - The level of how poisonous an agent is.

    All of these terms come into play with talking about Chemical agents. Knowing their definitions can help when dealing with these substances.

    Chemical agents are classed into four basic catagories:

  • Choking - Phosgene (CG) and Chlorine (Cl) gases
  • Blood - Hydrogen Cyanide (AC) and Cyanogen Chloride (CK)
  • Blister - Mustard (H and HD), Lewisite (L), Phosgene Oxime (CX)
  • Nerve - Sarin (GB), Tabun (GA), Soman (GD), and VX

    These agents are some of the deadliest on the planet. The Nerve agents are 100 times more volatile than the choking agents and much harder to treat.

    Choking Agents
    Phosgene, military designation is CG, with the chemical name Carbonyl chloride, is said to have the smell of freshly mown hay or grass. It has a rapid rate of hydrolysis; it is destroyed by water. The vapor density is 3.4 making it much heavier than air, which means it will stay in a confined area longer. It is non-persistant but itís rate of action is very rapid, from immediate up to three hours. Itís route of entry into the body is through inhalation. The symptoms include coughing, choking, and tightness in the chest caused by non-cardiac pulmonary edema. Initial first aid measures are to remove the person from the contaminated area and into fresh air. The patient will need to be treated with high flow Oxygen and perhaps diuretic therapy to combat the pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs).

    Chlorine, has no military designation, but is often abbreviated Cl, and smells like bleach. It has a slow rate of hydrolysis, and will react vigorously with metals when wet. It has a vapor density of 2.48, meaning it is MUCH heavier than air and is non-persistant at room temperature, making respiratory protection necessary. Itís rate of action is immediate when found in high concentrations, otherwise delayed. It has a rapid rate of detoxification. Itís action on the body is damage to lung cells, causing pulmonary edema. Initial first aid, is the same as Phosgene, remove the patient from the contaminated area and administer high concentrations of Oxygen.

    Blood Agents
    Hydrogen Cyanide, military designation AC but also abbreviated CN, and Cyanogen Chloride, military designation CK, are very similar in their effects on the body. Both are non-persistant gases and are said to smell like bitter almonds. Their route of entry into the body is via the respiratory tract and they work by stopping cell respiration; rate of action is immediate. Symptoms of exposure include gulping or gasping for air, dark red colored skin and lips (purplish colored in dark skinned people), followed by unconsciousness and death. Victims exposed to AC or CK should be removed from the contaminated area immediately by properly protected rescuers, and high flow oxygen should be administed and an IV line. Antidotes typically used by many agencies include Amyl Nitrite, Sodium Nitrite, and Sodium Thiosulfate.

    Blister Agents
    Mustard agents, military designation H, commonly have the odor of garlic. Lewisite, L, has the smell of Geraniums and Phosgene Oxime, CX, has what is described as an irratating odor. At room temperature most blister agents are in liquid form, however, CX has a prismatic crystalline form. Their rate of action is delayed and routes of entry are contact with skin, inhalation, and through the eyes. Symptoms of exposure include burning eyes, coughing, and blistering of the skin after 4 - 24 hours, and intense pain. First aid includes removing the victim from the contaminated area, flushing their skin and eyes with copious amounts of water, then possible with a dilute bleach solution.

    Nerve Agents
    There are four main nerve agents that are the most frequently talked about. They are: Tabun (GA), Sarin (GB), Soman (GD), and VX. These are four of the deadliest substances on the planet. Nerve agents are considered major military threat agents. The only known battlefield use of nerve agents was in the Iraq-Iran conflict. Intelligence analysts indicate that many countries have the technology to manufacture nerve agent munitions.

    Nerve agents are liquids under temperate conditions. When dispersed, the more volatile ones constitute both a vapor and a liquid hazard. Others are less volatile and represent primarily a liquid hazard. The "G-agents" are more volatile than VX. Sarin, GB, is the most volatile, but it evaporates less readily than water. Cyclosarin, GF, is the least volatile of the G-agents.

    Nerve agents can be dispersed from missiles, rockets, bombs, howitzer shells, spray tanks, land mines, and other large munitions.

    Tabun, is a semi-persistant gas, said to have a fruity smell, and with an extremely rapid rate of action. It enters the body through the respiratory tract and with contact to the skin. It has a low rate of hydrolysis with water, but with acids or alkalis it is fairly rapid. Tabun has a vapor density of 5.63, making it heavier than air. It also has a slow rate of detoxification, and decontamination is slow. Victims must be removed from the contaminated area and have their skin and hair flushed with copius amounts of water and possibly a dilute bleach solution. It works on the body by creating over-stimulation of the muscles and secretory cells. Signs and symptoms include pinpoint pupils, salivation, vomiting/diarrhea, muscle twitching, and respiratory distress. Treatments include injections of Atropine Sulfate and 2-Pam Chloride.

    Sarin, a colorless and odorless gas, has a lethal dose of 0.5 milligram for an adult. It is 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas and is 20 times more lethal than potassium cyanide. Just 0.01 milligram per kilogram of body weight a pinprick sized droplet will kill a human. The vapor is slightly heavier than air, so it hovers close to the ground. Under wet and humid weather conditions sarin degrades swiftly, but as the temperature rises up to a certain point, sarinís lethal duration increases, despite the humidity. Death may occur within 1 to 10 minutes of inhalation exposure to a minute amount of sarin. Immediate decontamination of the smallest drop is essential. Effects may be delayed with dermal exposure. The first indication of exposure to sarin may be a reaction at the point of contact: localized sweating, muscular twitching, and pinpoint pupils. Rhinorrhea (running nose), tightness of the chest with shortness of breath, and dimness of vision may be noted. In more severe exposure, headache, cramps, nausea, vomiting, involuntary defecation and urination, twitching, jerking, staggering, seizures, drowsiness, coma, and respiratory arrest may be seen. Treatment for Sarin exposure includes rescuers wearing Class A protective gear including SCBA. Flush the skin and areas of contamination with copious amounts of water, and 10% bleach solution. High flow Oxygen, IV of normal saline, D5W, or Ringer's lactate. Administration of Atropine and 2-PAM chloride.

    Soman, GD, is a lethal cholinesterase inhibitor. Doses that are potentially life threatening may be only slightly larger than those producing least effects. Soman is a colorless liquid when pure with a fruity odor. The industrial version is yellow-brown with a camphor-like odor. It has an extremely high vapor density of 6.3 and is moderately soluble in water. Symptoms of overexposure may occur within minutes or hours, depending upon dose. They include: constricted pupils and visual effects, headaches and pressure sensation, runny nose and nasal congestion, salivation, tightness in the chest, nausea, vomiting, giddiness, anxiety, difficulty in thinking and sleeping, nightmares, muscle twitches, tremors, weakness, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, involuntary urination and defecation. Severe exposure symptoms progress to convulsions and respiratory failure. Treatment is the same as with the other nerve agents. Properly protected rescuers should remove the victim from the contaminated atmosphere, supply the victim with 100% high flow oxygen, flush the skin and area of contamination with copious amounts of water and 10% bleach solution. Start IV of Normal Saline, D5W or Lactated Ringers. Administer Atropine and 2-PAM Chloride.

    VX is a colorless to straw colored liquid & odorless, similar in appearance to motor oil. It has a vapor density of 9.2, the heaviest of all the nerve agents, and is moderately soluable in water. Effects from airborne exposure appear in one to five minutes after exposure. Symptoms are similar to the other nerve agents, including, pinpoint pupils with pressure sensation in eyes, excessive secretions causing coughing/breathing difficulty; salivation and sweating; vomiting, diarrhea; stomach cramps; involuntary urination/defecation; generalized muscle twitching/muscle cramps; CNS depression including anxiety, restlessness, giddiness, insomnia, excessive dreaming and nightmares. With more severe exposure, also headache, tremor, drowsiness, concentration difficulty, memory impairment, confusion, unsteadiness on standing or walking, and progressing to death. Treatment includes, properly trained rescuers removing the victim from the contaminated atmosphere. Flushing the skin/contaminated areas with water or 5% bleach solution. Provide 100% high flow Oxygen, IV of Normal Saline, D5W or Lactated Ringers. Administer Atropine and 2-PAM Chloride.

    Notice the four nerve agents have relatively the same types of symptomology and the same treatments. This is because they all have the same actions within the body. The medications named are commonly carried by military medics and by some EMS systems. They are usually marketed under the name MARK I Antedote Kits. They are VERY expensive, ranging in the five figures, for one kit.

    Knowing the basics about these agents can help you understand the danger of their use in warfare or terrorism. If there is suspicion that one of these agents may have been used as a terrorist attack in your area, stay indoors, activate your saferoom, and under no circumstances, go near the area of contamination. As you read, the smallest amounts of these chemicals are deadly. While we most likely wonít have the antedotes for treating exposure to one of these agents, having the knowledge to stay away from them is second best.

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