Chemical Warfare Agents

Chemical warfare agents are defined in general as substances, of which direct contact with, causes injury or fatality. There are three different forms of chemical warfare agents, namely nerve agents, blistering agents and choking agents. Each of these chemical warfare agents are described in more detail below.

1. Nerve agents
The main physiological symptoms when nerve agents are encountered are muscles contraction, causing respiratory failure and paralysis of certain body parts. They are disseminated by direct contact with substance, though liquids, foods or aerosol spray. Immediate treatment: for nerve agents is decontamination and subsequent antidote injection. Well-known examples of nerve agents include sarin, tabun and VX gas.

2. Choking agents
When choking agents are contacted, the symptoms may not develop for several hours. Subsequently, obvious symptoms of choking agent start with coughing and choking, due to the production of mucus in the air passageway. In more severe cases, the lungs start to swell and eventually cause suffocation and death in the victim. As with most chemical warfare agent, poisoning starts with direct contact with the choking agent. Similar to nerve agents, Choking agents are treated with immediate decontamination and antidote injection. Familiar examples of nerve agents include chlorine and phosgene.

3. Blistering agents
Some of the more prominent symptoms include skin blisters and burns once there is direct contact with the blistering agents. However, the treatment for blistering agent varies slightly where the normal procedure is an immediate decontamination, followed by remedy with antibiotics. In severe cases, plastic surgery can be carried out after wounds have healed. Lewisite gas and mustard gas have been recognized as the typical examples of blistering agents.

These are some important periods in the history of mankind that involve chemical warfare agents:
-June 2002: Europe prepares plan to counter chemical attacks
-1992: Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) established, stating that all chemical weapon stockpiles must be destroyed. Starts in 1997 and has been ratified by 135 countries so far
-1980s: Mustard gas, tabun and sarin used in Iran-Iraq war (mostly by Iraq)
-1940s – 1960s: At the height of the Cold War; US and Russia continue to develop biochemical capabilities
-1949: Ranajit Ghosh, of Britain’s Imperial Chemical Industries, invents VX gas
-1925: Geneva Protocol bans use of biological and chemical weapons in warfare
-1916: UK sets up secret chemical weapons testing centre at Porton Down, Wiltshire
-1910s: Chlorine, phosgene and mustard gas were used during WWI

As of now, several countries are thought to have chemical warfare agents capabilities and these countries include Iraq, Iran, Libya, Israel, Syria, Russia, China, Taiwan, North Korea and South Korea. There are fears that terrorists and criminals could obtain stocks of chemical warfare agents. Although they are difficult to use on a large scale, they could be used on a smaller-scale in simultaneous attacks.