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CBRN Attacks: Chemical

CBRN attacks stand for Chemical, Biological, Radiation, and Nuclear attacks.

Let’s take a look at past CBRN attacks, the most common weapons, and how to survive, as unfortunately more commonly today, we are delving into the world of chemical warfare.

When we look at chemical warfare a lot of us think about World War One and gas attacks. That was when chemical warfare was at its most public. A variety of different gases were used from mustard gas (dichlorethylsulphide), xylyl bromide, chlorine gas, phosgene carbonyl chloride, and hydrogen cyanide. Often these gases were used in combination.

During WW1 gas was divided into different categories these were tear gases (lachrymators), sneezing gas (sternutatory gas), blistering gas (vesicants), and respiratory irritants.

Surprisingly when it came to gases irritants were more commonly used, with mustard gas being used the most. Although the exposure was fatal in 3% of cases, it was feared for its debilitating effects. Mustard gas is a vesicant it causes severe blistering. But the deadliest of them all was phosgene gas. It was responsible for 85% of the 91000 deaths caused by gas in WW1. Phosgene was more efficient at killing. It irritated the lungs to cause the build-up of fluid, and pulmonary oedema, leading to death drowning in their own fluids. Unlike its cousin, chlorine gas phosgene could not be stopped by a wet rag across the face. After WW1 the Geneva Protocol was signed banning “the use in war of asphyxiating, poisonous or other gases, and of all analogous liquids, materials or devices”.

This hasn’t exactly stopped some countries. Industrial accidents are not to be ruled out either. In 1984 industrial accident led to the release of methyl isocyanide gas, part of an insecticide, being released over the city of Bhopal killing 3,787 people and injuring 574,366 people. Not all chemical attacks may have a past in warfare many originate from pesticides. This is the case with Sarin - a deadly nerve agent. Sarin is an organophosphate like many other deadly nerve agents such as VX and Novichok. Sarin currently is the most likely suspect currently to be used in a widespread chemical attack. It has been used as recently as 2017 in Syria killing between 40-50 people and injuring over 100 people. Sarin was used in Syria between 2013-2017.

So, what have we learned on how to survive?

From WW1 we learned to get into sunny, windy, low humidity conditions so the gas will disperse faster. To cover and protect the skin, eyes, mouth, and nose.

In Bhopal, the gas was denser than the air, so children were affected more. If this is the case, get high up. Then as we learned from sarin decontaminate as fast as possible. Remove clothes and wipe down the skin. Wash your eyes, nose, and mouth out with clean water. Many chemical agents have antidotes. Atropine is the antidote to organophosphate-based nerve agents. Apply oxygen and treat the symptoms. This is the key to survival.

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