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The History Of Chemical Warfare And Its Effect On The Environment

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There are so many issues facing the world today that it is sometimes hard to understand why they occur and what they affect. Today it is apparent that many people take the environment of the earth for granted. Pollution, energy, and natural resources are all seen as an environmental element that can threaten our future and destroy the environment. But there is another threat to the environment that is certainly overlooked by today's society and was overlooked by many in the past. This element is the act of war. There are many different aspects of war that can affect the environment and the people of our world, but there is one specific facet of war that could be considered most detrimental... chemical warfare. "Chemical warfare is warfare (and associated military operations) using the toxic properties of chemical substances to kill, injure or incapacitate the enemy" (Chemical Warfare). But not only does it leave its mark on society and the people of the world, chemical warfare can destroy the unique qualities of nature as well. The practice of chemical warfare dates back to 1000 B.C and is still used today (Smart). Its impact is nearly everlasting, but still so many people are uneducated on its effects. This is why many have gathered to form organizations in order to eliminate the use of chemical weapons and reduce the destruction that is causes. Chemical warfare is a critical issue of today's society and needs to be dealt with because of its severe impact on our environment and the people of the world.

Before indulging on the effects of chemical warfare, one must understand what a chemical weapon is and why its effects are so detrimental. A chemical used in warfare is called a chemical warfare agent (CWA), and is usually gaseous at room temperature or is a liquid that evaporates quickly. Such liquids are said to be volatile or have a high vapor pressure. The resulting fumes are toxic, hence the phrase "poison gas" used to describe a chemical weapon deployed in gaseous form. Many chemical agents are made volatile so they can be dispersed over a large region quickly (Chemical Warfare). A good way to help identify a chemical agent is by determining their classification. All chemical weapon agents are classified according to their persistency, a measure of the length of time that a chemical agent remains effective after dissemination. Chemical agents are classified as persistent or nonpersistent. Persistent agents tend to stay in the air for as long as a couple of weeks, while nonpersistent tend to disperse sooner ( Chemical warfare agents are organized into several categories according to the manner in which they affect the human body. "The names and number of categories varies slightly from source to source, but in general, types of chemical warfare agents are as follows: Nerve, Asphyxiant/Blood, Vesicant/Blister, Choking/Pulmonary, Lachrymatory agent, Incapacitating, and Cytotoxic proteins" (E-medicine). These different classifications of chemical agents are all harmful to the human body as well as the environment. But in regards to the body, there are a countless number of negative effects; all of which will be covered later. These effects can rage anywhere from a simple rash to instant death.

The importance of understanding why and when chemical warfare was used is a key step towards resolving the issue and preventing further damage to our environment. As noted before, chemical warfare dates back many, many years in our world's history. "[It] has been used for millennia in the form of poisoned arrows, but evidence can be found for the existence of more advanced forms of chemical weapons in ancient and classical times" (Smart). A good example of early chemical warfare was the late Stone Age hunter-gatherer societies in Southern Africa, known as the San. The San used arrows, with the tips of their arrows covered by poisons obtained from their natural environment. "These poisons were mainly derived from scorpion or snake venom, but it is believed that some poisonous plants were also utilized" (Chemical Warfare). The arrow was fired into the target of choice, usually an item of prey such as the antelope, with the hunter then tracking the doomed animal until the poison caused its collapse. Although this is not considered warfare between humans, this still provides knowledge on the use of chemicals to cause harm. From here we can infer that even the use of these chemicals in ancient times had an effect on the environment. If early humans were using chemicals to hunt and kill their prey, it may have created an unbalance in the habitat of the time. If the antelope population was to suddenly decrease with the use of chemicals, the predator of the antelope may starve and die, later causing a possible extinction of that particular species.

Chemical weapons in the form of liquid were not the only type of chemicals used in the beginning of human history. The earliest recorded use of gas warfare in the West dates back to the 5th century BC, during the Peloponnesian War between Athens and Sparta. Spartan forces besieging an Athenian city placed a lighted mixture of wood, pitch, and sulfur under the walls hoping that the noxious smoke would incapacitate the Athenians, so that they would not be able to resist the assault that followed. Sparta wasn't alone in its use of unconventional tactics during these wars: Solon of Athens is said to have used hellebore roots to poison the water in an aqueduct leading from the Pleistrus River around 590 BC during the siege of Cirrha (Smart). It seems that war tactics during this time were successful, however, they may have greatly harmed the environment. By poisoning water in an aqueduct, such as Solon did, it could have greatly affected the wildlife living in the underwater habitat, as well as the shrubbery and trees that extracted water from that particular source.

After these particular times in history, the use of chemical weapons was not documented as much but was, no doubt, still being used. But it was not until the Renaissance that chemical warfare was popular once more. One of the earliest such references is from Leonardo da Vinci, who proposed a powder of sulfide of arsenic and verdigris in the 15th century: "throw poison in the form of powder upon galleys. Chalk, fine sulfide of arsenic, and powdered verdegris may be thrown among enemy ships by means of small mangonels, and all those who, as they breathe, inhale the powder into their lungs will become asphyxiated". It is unknown whether this powder was ever actually used (Croddy 11). Again, in the 17th century during sieges, armies attempted to start fires by launching incendiary shells filled with sulphur, tallow, rosin, turpentine, saltpeter, and/or antimony" (Smart). By loading these chemicals together, not



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