Chemical Warfare Agents

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The age of modern chemical warfare began in Ypres, Belgium on April 22, 1915 when the German military used 150 tons of Chlorine on a 5 mile line of French Reservists. The world took notice of the terror and carnage of this attack, but it did not stop nations from developing chemical weapons of their own. By the end of World War I, a large arsenal of chemical warfare agents was in use by both sides of the conflict. The destruction caused by chemical agents contaminated the land and caused such extensive damage, it is still affected to this day. As one chemical agent was defended against, others were developed to exploit weaknesses. The following is the development of Chemical Warfare Agents (CWA):

*First Generation Chemical Agents.
-Blister Agents (also known as vesicants): There are generally 4 families of chemicals in these agents. The two mustard agents; Sulfur Mustard (HD) and Nitrogen mustard (HN), Lewisite (L) and Halogenated oximes (CX). All these agents cause similar symptoms of blisters on the skin. Additionally includes blistering in the eyes (conjunctivitis), which can cause blindness, and afflict respiratory pathways. The mustard agents have delayed onset of symptoms opposed to Lewisite (L) and Halogenated oximes (CX) where symptoms occur immediately. The mustard agents also cause sensitivity to additional exposure and are a carcinogen chemical (cancer causing agent).

-Blood agents (also known as Cyanogens): This chemical agent designation included the chemicals Hydrogen cyanide (AC) and Cyanogen chloride (CK). Both agents contain cyanide as the active chemical compound which prevents the cells of the body from using oxygen; this leads to respiratory and cardiac arrest. As a CWA, blood agnets are not very viable due to the high dispersion raise and the low toxiclity rate of the agents. It is difficult to get and keep a lethal concentration of the agents to cause causalities.

-Choking Agents (also known as Pulmonary or lung-damaging agents): Chemicals in this family of chemical agents include Phosgene (CG), diphosgene (DP), Chlorine (C) and Chloropicrin (PS). These chemicals cause pulmonary edema also referred to as dry land drowning. The damaged organ allows liquid to seep in to the lung and will out oxygen and draining of this fluid, the injury is fatal. As a military CWA choking agents are the primary focus.

*Second Generation Chemical Agents.
-Non-persistent Nerve agents: There is a range of Nerve ages that were developed around the Second World War. The Germans first developed these organophosphorus esters as insecticides. These nerve agents include Tabun (GA), Sarin (GB), and Soman (GD). The specific heat of these agents is close to water, giving them similar evaporation properties; causing it to be considered non-persistent. Nerve Agents all work in a similar manner because get in between nerves and block the enzyme that stops a nerve from "firing" called acetylcholinesterase. Without this enzyme the nerve is overloaded with signals resulting in uncontrollable localized or general convulsions.

*Third Generation Chemical Agents
-Persistent Nerve agent: the most predominate of these agents is VX and thick motor oil looking liquid that is more of a contact hazard (like blister agents) than an inhalation hazard like other nerve agents. With less than a single drop of VX on the skin can cause a potentially fatal injury

-Toxins: These are chemical agents derived from living sources such as cobra venom and plant poisons and are primarily used to circumvent chemical weapons treaties.

-Toxic Industrial Chemicals (TICs): With international watch dog groups working to prevent the spread and manufacture of these agents, some have turned their agent to Hazardous chemicals or TICs as an improvised CWA. Without the need to transport or produce the chemical, it frees up resources for these chemicals to be used. A list of possible improvised CWAs can be found by looking through the North American Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) and looking around industrial parks for possible targets/resources. Imagine the Union Carbide Bhopal, India incident that was the result of a state or non state actor causing over 4,000 immediate deaths, and over 10,000 injuries with on going effects for over the next 20 years.

Even as the U.S. draws down its chemical agents stock piles to comply with the Chemical Weapons Convention, to prevent incidents and lower operating costs of instillations across the Department of Defense; other nations are looking to keep and expand their arsenals. Whether it is a small terrorist cell or a national Chemical weapons program, the threat remains.

The Chemical genie may have been released in 1915, but it has spread around the world with limited success in returning him to the lamp.

A Higher Form of Killing; By Robert Harris and Jeremy Paxman

More about this author: Dan Blade

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