How dangerous are chemical weapons?
chemical weapons are considered as “Weapons of Mass Destruction,” alongside Nuclear, Radiological and Biological weaponry. There have been numerous international bans on their use, stemming from 1899, when the Hague Convention prohibited using “Poisonous arms” or “Asphyxiating gases.”
In 1925 the Geneva Protocol further enacted a ban on both chemical and biological agents, saying that they are “justly condemned by the general opinion of the civilized world”.
The most comprehensive international ban was the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, which also prohibited the production or stockpiling. But despite these restrictions, the first modern use of chemical weapons was during World War I.
Lethal gases like phosgene caused severe irritation in the lungs, eyes, and throat. Victims would often have difficulty breathing as their lungs would slowly fill with fluid, killing them as long as 48 hours after exposure. In particular, chlorine would react with water in the lungs, creating hydrochloric acid, and causing severe pain and death.
Non-lethal but still illegal chemicals were used as well, including tear and mustard gas. These would cause blistering of the skin and internal chemical burns.
Throughout World War One, chemical weapons caused over 100,000 deaths and affected more than a million people. During the Second World War, chemicals were only used by Japanese against other Asian countries. While the Nazis possessed gas weapons but were afraid of a severe response if deployed. The Allies also refused to use deadly gas, although at one point Winston Churchill did propose dropping poison gas and anthrax over Germany.
After the war, the Allies discovered Germany’s stockpile of nerve agents. These are chemicals which work by disrupting the nervous system and lead to a loss of body control. They eventually cause death by suffocation. Increased research into chemical weapons led to both the US and the USSR developing and creating tens of thousands of tons to stockpile throughout the Cold War.
But the most infamous use of chemical weapons was during the Iran-Iraq War. In the 1980s, Iraq received money and supplies from The United States and Germany to develop chemical weapons. But in 1988, both mustard gas and nerve agents were used against a Kurdish civilian village, leading to as many as 5,000 deaths and 10,000 injuries.
The attack has since been called an act of genocide and was the single largest chemical attack against civilians ever. In the years since the only use of chemical weapons has been by terrorist groups. Luckily, the most recent ban has led to a 90% decline in the world’s stockpile. Still, chemical weapons are especially dangerous due to their indiscriminate, long lasting, and painful effects. In the wrong hands, they are considerably more terrifying than most conventional weapons.
There exist a number of chemicals that many don’t know about, yet some of these chemicals are so deadly a single gram could kill thousands while others could explode at any moment.
Who Has Used Chemical Weapons Since They’ve Been Banned?
On April 8, 2018, An attack in Syria shocked the world. Footage from the aftermath of the incident showed men, women and children desperately gasping for air and being hosed down with water by first responders. A scene that is often associated with chemical weapons attacks.
But chemical weapons are illegal and have been banned globally since 1925 when the international community came together and signed a treaty called The Geneva Protocol. But despite them being banned, It hasn’t prevented some world leaders from using these brutal weapons against people.
There are six world leaders who have used chemical weapons since the signing of the Geneva Protocol in 1925.
- The first use of chemical weapons after they were internationally banned, was by Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after he invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Mussolini launched an attack on the Ethiopian Empire from its then colony Eritrea, and Italian Somaliland. Mussolini was determined to expand his empire at any cost, even if that meant going against the Geneva Protocol his country signed onto in 1928. The Italians used chemical weapons, including dropping mustard bombs and spraying mustard from aeroplane tanks. According to the Ethiopian emperor at the time, Haile Selassie, the chemical weapons killed tens of thousands of people.
- The next use happened by Imperial Japan’s invasion of China in 1937, during the Second Sino-Japanese War. Japanese Emperor Hirohito reportedly signed off on the use of chemical and biological weapons against Chinese soldiers and civilians, as he tried to expand his control onto mainland China. It’s estimated that Japan conducted between 1,000 to 3,000 attacks, and reportedly produced 5 to 7 million munitions containing chemical agents like hydrogen cyanide and mustard. There is no official count of how many people died as a result of these chemical weapons, but an estimated 300,000 people died during the period of this war. The effects of the use and abandonment of chemical weapons in China, still reverberate to this day. After the war, a treaty signed in 1997 stipulated that the Japanese government is responsible for cleaning up the weapons left behind.
- The next case was Adolf Hitler’s use of chemical gases during World War II beginning in 1941. While he didn’t use the banned weapons on the battlefield, he did use them in Nazi concentration camps to kill prisoners during the Holocaust. A banned chemical agent known as “Zyklon B” was used in concentration camp facilities disguised as showers to kill prisoners during Hitler’s brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing. Up to 6 million Jews were murdered in total during the Holocaust.
- Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser also used chemical weapons in Yemen, when Egypt intervened in the countries civil war in 1963. The war, known as the North Yemen Civil War, began in 1962 after the death of the country’s king. When power was handed down to his son dissidents within the military staged a coup, overthrowing the monarchy and establishing a republic. Military forces loyal to the former king retreated to the north of the country and continued to fight the New Republican forces. Egypt was one of the only regional states that backed the new government in Yemen, as Nasser attempted to partner with other Arab nationalists. Under Nasser’s leadership, Egypt used brutal tactics to crack down on royalist forces. The nation repeatedly used chemical weapons, including mustard and nerve agents between 1963 to 1967. The move made him the first Arab leader to use the banned weapons.
- The next world leader to use chemical weapons was Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in at least two separate occasions. The first came during the Iraq-Iran war that began in 1980. Just months after the war began, Saddam Hussein reportedly used his home-produced chemical weapons against Iranian forces. He reportedly used the banned weapons repeatedly against Iran between 1980-1987. Then in 1988, he aimed his chemical weapons against another group of Iraqi Kurds. On March 16th, 1988 he dropped chemical weapons, including mustard gas and Sarin, on the Kurdish town of Halabja. The attack killed between 3,200 to 5,000 people. Hussein also used the weapons against the Kurds again during what is known as the “Anfal” offensive which was a 7-month scorched earth campaign where 50,000 to 100,000 Kurds were killed or disappeared.
- Bashar al-Assad would become the next leader to use chemical weapons in August 2013 during the height of the Syrian civil war. The attack targeted opposition groups who controlled the town near the country’s capital. United Nations inspectors confirmed the use of a nerve agent, including Sarin gas in the attack that reportedly killed nearly 1,500 people. While a number of governments and international organizations say there is overwhelming evidence the Syrian government was behind the attack, Assad still denies his government was responsible. Throughout the Syrians civil war, Assad’s government has been repeatedly accused of using chemical weapons on opposition stronghold most recently in April 2018.
List 10 of the deadliest chemical Weapons on the earth.
10. Chlorine Trifluoride
Fist discovered back in the 1930s, Chlorine Trifluoride is an incredibly reactive chemical that’s just looking for any reason to explode. It will even react with asbestos and catch on fire, a substance that is known for being almost completely fire retardant.
The reason for this is because of chlorine trifluoride is a more powerful oxidizing agent than oxygen itself, meaning things that would normally be considered to be impossible to set flame to, are all of a sudden not so safe anymore. Chlorine Trifluoride can possibly even set fire to things that have already been burned up, like ash or used charcoal.
9. Azidoazide Azide
The most explosive chemical in the world. Azidoazide Azide is probably quite upset at the unfortunate name it was given, and because of this, it has decided to explode under pretty much all circumstances. It will explode if you move it, touch it, disperse it in solution, expose it to x-rays, expose it to light, and even if you expose it to absolutely nothing. Its explosiveness comes from the fact that none of the nitrogen atoms in the molecule is arranged in the double bond nitrogen form which is a very stable molecule. All the nitrogen atoms want to return to their stable form and they do so release a lot of energy.
8. Fluoroantimonic Acid
When simply labelling something as an “acid” is no longer enough, we move onto things called “superacids”. These are acids that are more acidic than even a pure solution of sulphuric acid. Fluoroantimonic acid is in a completely different league, being over 10 thousand quadrillion times stronger than sulphuric acid.
Trying to measure the pH of this acid is completely pointless as it’s quite literally off the scale. This acid will happily eat through glass and plastic, it will explode when reacting with water, and as you’ve probably guessed by now, getting some of this on you is not a good idea.
When somebody says “Cyanide” you instantly think of Poison. It’s not surprising since it was used as a lethal suicide pill during World War 2, most notably with the suicide of Nazi army officer Erwin Rommel. This innocent looking white substance can be fatal in amounts as little as 5% of a teaspoon. Cyanide is extremely toxic to humans, it blocks oxygen transport causing serious medical problems and ultimately death.
Botulinum toxin, more commonly known as Botox, is a neurotoxic protein produced for medical, cosmetic and research use. It’s the most toxic known substance in nature, and just one gram is enough to end the lives of 14,000 people if swallowed, or 8.3 million if injected.
The Center for Disease Control classifies botulinum as one of the six highest-risk threat agents of bioterrorism. Despite its impressive toxicity, Botox has a variety of cosmetic and medical uses such as treatment of spasms, gastric cancer, movement disorders and also has cosmetic applications such as temporarily reducing wrinkles.
This neurotoxin is found in certain species of frogs, melyrid beetles and birds. According to experiments with rodents, batrachotoxin is one of the most potent alkaloids known to man. Being a neurotoxin, it affects the nervous system and causes death by permanently blocking nerve signals from reaching the muscles.
It does also have effects on heart muscles, causing various changes that can lead to cardiac arrest. The best part is Currently, there is no effective antidote for the treatment of batrachotoxin poisoning.
Strychnine is a highly toxic, colourless, bitter crystalline alkaloid used as a pesticide, most commonly on small vertebrates such as birds and rodents. Make no mistake about it though, humans are very much affected as well and poisoning by inhalation, swallowing or absorption through the eyes or mouth can be fatal.
The first symptoms are usually muscle spasms, followed by seizures, cramping, stiffness and if a larger dose is taken, respiratory failure and brain death can occur in 15-30 minutes.
Ricin is a deadly poison found naturally in castor beans. Ricin works by getting inside the cells of a person’s body and preventing the cells from making the proteins they need. Without the proteins, cells die, if that happens enough times, the person dies too. Once again there is no antidote for ricin, so avoiding the substance is the only real way of preventing danger.
2. Dimethyl cadmium
This chemical is bad news. Dimethyl cadmium is a highly toxic compound that apparently doesn’t smell good at all. Who actually inhaled the substance in order to be able to report on it smells is a good question. It’s toxic to the lungs, naturally, but since it also gets into the bloodstream so well, it’s toxic to the liver, and to the kidneys and to the brain and nervous system.
Cadmium compounds, in general, have also been confirmed as carcinogenic, should you survive the initial exposure meaning sooner or later you will get cancer.
1. Pentaerythritol tetranitrate
PETN is one of the most powerful explosive materials known and has therefore been utilised as a plastic explosive, and when mixed with other additives it forms another plastic explosive called Semtex. Because it is highly sensitive to shock and friction, it is used as a component in some nuclear warheads as well as some cannon shells.
Its explosive properties have also been exploited by terrorists, such as the 1983 “Maison de France” house which was brought to a near total collapse by 24 kilograms of PETN by terrorist Johannes Weinrich. To make matters worse, because PETN does not readily vaporize into the surrounding air, it becomes very difficult to detect since bomb-sniffing dogs pretty much cannot track it down.
Now I think you know how deadly are these chemical weapons.