POTENTIAL MILITARY CHEMICAL/BIOLOGICAL AGENTS AND COMPOUNDS
For example, treatment of soman must begin within minutes to be effective, while tabun treatment can occur up to several hours after exposure. Prophylactic use of some compounds, such as pyridostigmine bromide, may allow effective treatments for some nerve agents to occur with longer delay. Chemicals categorized as blister agents, also known as vesicants, cause painful blistering of the skin.
Such blistering is not generally lethal. Militarily, blister agents produce casualties and reduce the combat effectiveness of opposing troops by requiring them to wear bulky protective equipment. Mustard agents are oily liquids that range in color from very pale yellow to dark brown, depending on the type and purity, and have a faint odor of mustard, onion, or garlic.
Chemical and Biological Weapons: Use in Warfare, Impact on Society and Environment
Blister agents are not naturally occurring compounds. Mustard agents, for example, were first developed in the late s. During World War I, both sides in the conflict used these weapons against their enemies. Countries have stockpiled blister agents in their chemical weapon inventories. Production of blister agents is less complicated than that of nerve agents.
Similar to manufacture of nerve agents, it requires the use of toxic chemicals and specialized equipment to contain the agent produced. The most common blister agents have many different methods for their production published in the open literature. Blister agents can enter the body by inhalation or contact with the skin or eyes. Some agents can penetrate through normal clothing material, causing burns even in cloth-covered areas.
While blister agents react quickly upon skin contact, their symptoms may be delayed.
In the case of mustard agent, damage occurs within one to two minutes of exposure, but symptoms do not manifest for several hours. The initial symptoms of blister agent exposure are a reddening of the skin, resembling sunburn, combined with pain in the affected area. Swollen skin, blisters, and lesions may then develop, depending on the degree of exposure.
Systemic symptoms, such as malaise, vomiting, and fever, may also develop in extreme cases. Exposure to large amounts of liquid mustard agent may prove fatal. The eyes are also very sensitive to blister agents. Following exposure to high concentration vapor, great pain, corneal damage, and scarring may occur. Liquid agent often causes the most severe eye damage. This may come from contact with airborne droplets or by self-contamination of the eyes from contaminated clothing or body parts.
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Victims inhaling blister agents may suffer damage to their lungs. While a single, low-level exposure may produce only temporary impairment, high concentrations or repeated exposures may cause permanent damage. Inhalation victims may have symptoms ranging from mild bronchitis to blistering of the lungs. Damage from blister agent exposure, lesions and other skin irritations, is symptomatically treated. Hospitalization may be required for respiratory tract injuries. Victims who suffer severe lung damage may require mechanical ventilation. Exposure to large amounts of mustard agent may weaken the whole immune system, requiring special precautions to avoid opportunistic infections during recovery.
Chemicals categorized as choking agents act on the lungs, causing difficulty in breathing and, potentially, permanent lung damage. Examples of choking agents include chlorine, ammonia, and phosgene. Choking agents are generally gases, have marked odors, and may color the surrounding air.
Choking agents were manufactured for wartime use, and were extensively used during World War I. The first major, successful, chemical attack of the war used chlorine gas at Ypres in More recently, Iraqi insurgents attempted to use chlorine gas as part of improvised explosive devices in and Many choking agents no longer have a military purpose, and instead industrial users predominantly employ them.
Commercial applications use chlorine and ammonia in large quantities for water disinfection and food refrigeration. Methods for producing choking agents are well-known, but may be technically challenging. Choking agents require specialized equipment to produce, compress, and contain them. Choking agents injure their victims through inhalation and have a comparatively mild effect on the skin.
Exposure to low chemical concentrations causes chest discomfort or shortness of breath, irritation of nose and throat, and tearing eyes. High agent concentrations may quickly cause swelling of the lungs, respiratory failure, and possibly death. Symptoms of lung damage can occur up to 48 hours after inhalation of moderate concentrations, and may not manifest themselves until physical effort aggravates the lungs. Victims of choking agents are generally treated symptomatically.
Because exercise may exacerbate lung damage, victims are kept at rest until the danger of fluid in the lungs is past. Symptoms such as tightness of the chest and coughing are treated with immediate rest and comfort. Shallow breathing and insufficient oxygen may require supplemental oxygen. Swelling and accumulation of fluids in the lungs are likely after exposure to a high dose of choking agent.
Administration of corticosteroids has been recommended in cases of fluid accumulation, but their beneficial effects have not been proven. Chemicals categorized as blood agents interfere with oxygen utilization at the cellular level. This category includes hydrogen cyanide and cyanide salts. Hydrogen cyanide is a very volatile gas, smelling of almonds, while cyanide salts are odorless solids. Militaries have considered hydrogen cyanide for use as a chemical warfare agent, but it has rare use in military situations because it quickly disperses. France manufactured hydrogen cyanide as a military agent during World War I.
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Hydrogen cyanide and cyanide salts have industrial applications in the chemical, electroplating, and mining industries. As with choking agents, methods for producing blood agents are relatively well-known. However, the gaseous nature of hydrogen cyanide complicates production and storage. Blood agents act through inhalation or ingestion and impair cellular oxygen use. The symptoms of blood agent exposure depend upon the agent concentration and duration of exposure.
In mild cases, headache, dizziness, and nausea may occur for several hours, followed by complete spontaneous recovery.
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Higher concentration or longer exposure may cause convulsions and coma. Very high concentrations may lead to powerful gasping for breath, violent convulsions, and cardiac failure within a few minutes. Treatment with specific antidotes, amyl or sodium nitrite combined with sodium thiosulfate, may reverse the effects of blood agents. The combination of these two chemicals removes cyanide, the active compound in blood agents, from the body. When convulsion or depressed breathing are present, treatment includes ventilation with oxygen and administration of anticonvulsant. Cyanide is metabolized more readily than most chemical weapons; with prompt treatment, victims may recover from otherwise-fatal doses.
Protection against chemical agents is predominantly physical, rather than medicinal, in nature. Physical protection against chemical agents includes gas masks and special protective clothing. Gas mask filters contain layers of activated charcoal and fine porous material to remove particles and chemicals from the airstream. The activated charcoal binds chemicals, preventing them from being inhaled.
Each gas mask filter has a finite capacity, proportional to the amount of unbound activated charcoal remaining, and so has a limited lifetime once put into operation.
A protective garment protects against those chemical weapons that cause effect upon skin contact. These garments range in complexity and protective ability. Hazardous materials suits are typically suits made of layered rubber containing activated charcoal. In comparison, military battle dress over-garments designed to protect against chemical weapons in the battlefield are generally cloth, sometimes treated to resist absorbing liquids, containing a layer of charcoal-impregnated foam.
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The rubber in protective equipment is impermeable to most chemical agents, while the activated charcoal acts in a manner similar to a gas mask filter. The combination of properly fitted and worn mask and suit should provide full protection against most chemical exposures. Few examples of medical prophylaxis against chemical weapons exist. Unlike against biological weapons, vaccines do not provide immunity from the effects of chemical weapons. However, pre-exposure use of pyridostigmine bromide provides some protection against the nerve agent soman. Use of pyridostigmine bromide prevents permanent binding of nerve agents within the nervous system.
Pyridostigmine bromide use is recommended only when there is a high imminent threat of chemical weapon use, as it has noticeable side effects. The U. Army Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense developed as an added protection against skin contact, a chemical resistant topical skin cream. Decontamination, where chemicals are removed from the victims, usually through washing the eyes and skin with water and against some chemical agents a dilute bleach solution, is an essential protection against secondary chemical exposure.
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