The Dangers Of Chemical Warfare Essay, Research Paper
How many people were killed or injured in WWI due to chemical weapons? According to
the Chemical Weapons Convention web page 1,400,000 people were affected by chemical
weapons. The most serious casualties were in Russia with 475,000 injuries and 56,000 killed.
The problems of chemical warfare are upon us yet again. Saddam Hussein is currently trying to
avoid weapon inspections by the United Nations. After it has been discovered that he used
weapons during Desert Storm, can we risk confrontation with him again?
Chemical warfare can be used in many ways. The most common way is gases used in
hand-to-hand combat which are contained in grenades or canisters and thrown or fired from a
launcher. For a more widespread effect, the gas or microorganism can be sprayed from an
airplane, as in crop dusting. Often, bombs containing nuclear centers or poisonous gases are
dropped onto densely populated cities. Recently nuclear warheads and even biological toxins
have been put in missiles, such as the United States? Tomahawk missiles and Iraq?s S.C.U.D.?s.
Chemical weapons are designed to attack a person?s nervous system, eyes, nose, throat, or
skin. Chemical agents are typically airborne. Tear gas is often used by police in riot situations.
Contained in grenades, tear gas irritates the eyes and lungs, causing violent coughing, blurred
vision, and a general inability to fight.
One widely known chemical weapon is mustard gas or 1,1?-Thiobis[2-chloroethane]. It?s
molecular formula is C4H8Cl2S. The chemical structure for mustard gas is:
There is no immediate effect from this substance. In about 4 hours symptoms begin to form.
These include itching, burning, and inflammation of areas where the mustard gas comes in contact
with the skin, followed by swelling of the tissue. After 20-24 hours small blisters form around the
affected areas. Finally, fully developed blisters fill with a colorless to yellow liquid. This liquid
causes severe tissue degeneration in the blisters, which are vulnerable to infection. The wound
may take several months to heal. The estimated lethal dose is 1,500 g min m-3 (50 mg m-3 for 30
min) by inhalation and 10,000 mg min m-3 (50 mg m-3 for 200 min) by dermal exposure. The
lethal dose of liquid mustard gas for a 70 kg man is 7.0 g. Another deadly weapon is sarin. The
dose of sarin which causes death for 50 percent of animals in a test is 0.42 mg kg-1 for mice, 0.30
mg kg-1 for rabbits, and 0.0385 mg kg-1 for guinea pigs. The lethal dose for a 70 kg man is 1.7
g. Sarin?s formal name is Methylphosphonofluoridic acid, (1-methyl ethyl) ester. The molecular
formula is C4H10FO2P. The chemical structure for sarin is:
Nuclear weapons are the newest type of chemical warfare. When atoms split, a
tremendous explosion occurs, raising the temperature of the immediate area to approximately one
million degrees Fahrenheit in less than one second. Everything close by is instantly vaporized, and
a huge blast wave expands out from the epicenter of the explosion. Intense radiation from the
blast can cause damage to the DNA of an organism and improper cell mitosis. Nuclear bomb or
fallout victims can have severe radiation burns, mutations, sterility in men, and birth defects in
Biological warfare is perhaps the most deadly of chemical warfare methods. Biological
warfare, or germ warfare, is the use of microorganisms, viruses, or the toxins they produce to
cause disease and death of enemy soldiers, civilians, animals, or crops. Biological warfare can be
more dangerous than other weapons because once the disease is caught by one person it may be
spread to others, thus continuing to be effective long after the original sample has been exposed.
One of the more popular biological weapons is Anthrax. There are two major types of
Anthrax. The less dangerous type lives in the soil and can be contracted by humans when
handling infected cattle or sheep. This form of Anthrax can cause nausea and illness. The more
serious form of Anthrax is airborne and can be easily dropped from airplanes. When inhaled, it
causes cardiac and respiratory arrest and immediate death.
Viruses can also be used as chemical weapons. Poxviridae, the smallpox virus, exists
today in only two places on this planet. One place is a freezer in a lab in the United States. The
other is a freezer in a lab in Russia. Each side wants to completely end the threat of smallpox.
however, each side holds the same fear: As soon as they destroy their strain of smallpox, the
other will attack with Poxviridae and defeat their country. Therefore, each side still has their own
little biological weapon. This is an example of the complicity of complete chemical weapon
banning. Everyone fears that if they give up their weapons, they will only be overtaken by
another country?s weapons.
The concept of chemical warfare is not a new one. For centuries, nations have used
chemical and biological agents to gain an advantage over their enemies. The ancient Spartans
used pitch and sulfur. In medieval times, soldiers would catapult the bodies of plague victims
over the walls or throw them into the wells of their enemies. During the French and Indian Wars,
American colonists handed out blankets used by smallpox victims to enemy Native Americans.
The disease spread quickly among the Indians who had never been exposed to European disease.
Chemical warfare was first widely used in World War I. In 1915 at Ypres, France, the
Germans released Chlorine gas toward the British and French lines. This started the development
and use of many toxic chemical agents by both sides in the war. By 1917, the Germans were
using deadly nerve gas and Mustard Gas. Gas masks became the most important piece of
equipment a soldier owned, next to his gun.
In the past quarter of a century, people have begun to realize the horror of chemical
warfare. In 1972, the United States, the Soviet Union, and 68 other nations signed the Biological
Weapons Convention. In signing the BWC, these countries pledged to cease development and
production of chemical weapons and destroy all of their existing chemical and biological agents.
The argument was made that those weapons killed too many people.
Today President Clinton is working hard to outlaw the use, production, and possession of
chemical weapons. A treaty was completed in 1992 and opened for signature in January 1993.
As of November 18, 1997, 168 countries have signed the Convention and 105 have ratified it.
The problem of chemical warfare may never be solved. Each side fears that if they give up
their research and supply of weapons, they are only open to an attack by a country with chemical
weapons. With the fear of Iraq?s weapon supply, this is truly a problem today. Due to the violent
nature and mass destruction of these weapons, they pose a great threat to everyone. We must
work harder to completely ban chemical weapon production and use.
4. The Poisonous Cloud: Chemical Warfare in the First World War. Haber, L.F. UG447.H255. 1986.