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Chemistry

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Chemical Warfare and Its Uses

Chemical warfare is the use of natural and man-made toxic

substances to incapacitate or kill an enemy. There are many different types

of agents used in chemical warfare, some of which are mustard gases, nerve

gases, psychotomimetic agents, tear gases, hydrogen cyanide, and arsines.

All of which are very poisonous and lethal when exposed to humans in large

amounts. Until the 20th century such warfare was primarily limited to

starting fires, poisoning wells, distributing smallpox-infected articles,

and using smoke to confuse the enemy. Today however, it is used as lethal

combative.

Mustard Agents

Mustard agents are usually classified as "blistering agents" owing

to the similarity of the wounds caused by these substances resembling burns

and blisters. However, since mustard agents also cause severe damage to the

eyes, respiratory system and internal organs, they should preferably be

described as "blistering and tissue-injuring agents". Normal mustard agent,

bis-(2-chloroethyl)sulphide, reacts with a large number of biological

molecules. The effect of mustard agent is delayed and the first symptoms do

not occur until between 2-24 hours after exposure.Mustard agent is simple

to manufacture and can therefore be a "first choice" when a country decides

to build up a capacity for chemical warfare.

Mustard agent was produced for the first time in 1822 but its

harmful effects were not discovered until 1860. Mustard agent was first

used as a CW agent during the latter part of the First World War and caused

lung and eye injuries to a very large number of soldiers. Many of them

still suffered pain 30-40 years after they had been exposed, mainly as a

result of injuries to the eyes and chronic respiratory disorders.

In its pure state, mustard agent is colorless and almost odorless.

The name was given to mustard agent as a result of an earlier production

method which yielded an impure mustard-smelling product. Mustard agent is

also claimed to have a characteristic smell similar to rotten onions.

However, the sense of smell is dulled after only a few breaths so that the

smell can no longer be distinguished. In addition, mustard agent can cause

injury to the respiratory system in concentrations which are so low that

the human sense of smell cannot distinguish them.

Symptoms of mustard agent poisoning extend over a wide range. Mild

injuries consist of aching eyes with abundant flow of tears, inflammation

of the skin, irritation of the mucous membrane, hoarseness, coughing and

sneezing.

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