Chemistry

Effects of Mustard Gas Exposure



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Mustard gas is a poisonous liquid that is very dangerous if an individual is exposed. The chemical agent, first used in World War I, and subsequently deployed through the 1980s during the Iran-Iraq War, is no longer used by the U.S.

The effects of mustard gas are serious and can even be deadly. The chemical is not known to kill swiftly, but rather cause lingering effects which damage the human body.

Mustard gas, while referred to as a gas, is actually a liquid. This dangerous liquid is either sulfur or nitrogen based and sometimes combined with Lewisite, which is another blistering agent. Mustard gas is a highly persistent chemical warfare agent and the blister agents that were used during World War I in 1918 are still found in the soils in some areas of modern day France with no breakdown of toxicity.

While the agent may lose some of its components over time, mustard gas does maintain highly poisonous levels that have not reduced potency even after several decades. Since the agent was first used in World War I, levels of mustard gas are still found almost a century later.

When an individual comes into contact with mustard gas, typically signs of blistering on the skin, painful skin irritation, red inflammation/burning in the eyes, and in some instances causes blindness.

Often respiratory problems accompany the blistering effects. These primarily emerge in the form of a runny or bloody nose, sneezing, pain in the throat, shortness of breath or sinus pain.

Other ways a person can be affected by mustard gas exposure is a feeling of light-headedness or fever. Digestive problems can emerge as well and come in the form of stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, or vomiting.

In many instances symptoms of mustard gas exposure may not appear for several hours or even a day, but typically will emerge within 8-24 hours. Direct attacks usually have more immediate indicators and blistering develops and airways are damaged. Longer exposure leads to more serious damage.

A mustard gas contact recently happened to a New Jersey based fishing vessel in June 2010 when fishermen lifted eight munitions in their net when fishing for clams in waters located just outside the Long Island Sound. One of shells had leaked and a fisherman was exposed and the chemical seeped through the fisherman protective gear and caused significant damage to his skin; he also developed breathing problems.

After the exposure the fisherman was listed in good condition, however the situation is serious and goes to demonstrate that the toxic levels of the agent do not decrease over time even when submerged in water in the shells. The effects of mustard gas exposure are serious.

References:

1. Medical Management of Chemical Casualties (Medical Research Institute of Chemical Defense)

2.  http://science.howstuffworks.com/mustard-gas3.htm

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