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Weapons of Mass Destruction (Chem/Bio)

Threat Scenario, Detection, Super Diseases, BZ Gas, Anthrax, Botulism, Ebola, Glanders, Hantavirus, Pneumonic Plague, Small Pox, TularemiaTyphoid, VX Gas, Tabun-Sarin-Soman


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VX Nerve Agent

Further reading

VX is likely one of the most dangerous chemicals created by man. It is used in chemical warfare. In the film "The Rock", it was that green liquid that the terrorists threatened San Francisco Bay with. 

VX gas was developed in the Porton Down Chemical Weapons Research Centre, Wiltshire, England in 1952 and its devastating effects were tested. The British traded the technology of VX with the United States of America for information on thermonuclear weapons. 
VX Structure

Its chemical formula is CH3CH20-P(O)(CH3)-SCH2CH2N(C3H7)2 and is normally in its liquid state despite its name. It has a low volatility; is odourless and is an excellent adhesive. A special form has been developed that is so adhesive that it is virtually impossible to remove from the surface that it is in contact with. This leads to strategic attacks on enemy bases or airfields so that the VX remains stuck to the area and has the potential to kill any one attempting to use the base or airfield. 

The "V" of VX signifies it long persistence. So it is more dangerous and toxic than its cousins of the "G" variety like GA (Tabun) and GB (Sarin), which dissipate quickly and have only short-term effects. In the liquid form of VX, it is absorbed through the eyes or the skin of the victim. It takes an hour or two to take effect and its effects result in death. The gaseous form is more deadly than the liquid form and acts almost immediately on the victim. The effects are worst when it is inhaled and death is an end to the suffering.

The LD50 can be as little as 10mg for humans. It operates by cutting off the nervous system. It binds to the enzyme that transmits signals to the nerves and inhibits them. Therefore the nerves become isolated and uncontrollable. The antidote, atropine, is a toxin itself but it counteracts the effect of the VX by removing it from the enzyme. It is an anti-nerve agent so does the reverse of the VX, a nerve agent. It is normally injected into the arm or thigh but for gaseous attacks the atropine must go immediately into the heart. So full body protection and gas masks are essential to avoid exposure in a VX missile attack.

VX has not been used to its fullest potential yet because it is too dangerous to use for local attacks with wind that could blow the VX back onto the base. This factor has helped to keep VX from being used to cripple local nations. If these weapons were launched against a nation then there would be the possibility of a nuclear counterattack because VX is a weapon of mass destruction that spreads from impact point killing all in its path. This would be countered by another, which in a lot of cases, would be a nuclear bomb. The only known countries to possess VX are U.S. France and Russia. England after inventing it abandoned the thought for thermonuclear warfare.

VX exposure can be treated. As with other nerve agents, the most effective treatment for VX is the immediate injection of a mix of the drugs atropine and pralidoxime chloride, which counteract the effects of the nerve agent on the peripheral nervous system and help victims breathe, and diazepam, which counteracts the central nervous system effects of VX, including seizures. U.S. military personnel are equipped with auto-injector kits containing the antidotes. But the drugs must be administered immediately upon exposure to VX. (The antidotes can be dangerous to those who haven't been exposed.) 

Victims who inhale VX should also be given access to fresh air. Those whose skin has touched VX should be washed with soap and water. Another chemical, pyridostigmine bromide, can be given before exposure to increase resistance to VX.

People may not instantly know they are exposed to VX 

  • People exposed to a low or moderate dose of VX by inhalation, ingestion (swallowing), or skin absorption may experience some or all of the following symptoms within seconds to hours of exposure:
    • Runny nose
    • Watery eyes
    • Small, pinpoint pupils
    • Eye pain
    • Blurred vision
    • Drooling and excessive sweating
    • Cough
    • Chest tightness
    • Rapid breathing
    • Diarrhea
    • Increased urination
    • Confusion
    • Drowsiness
    • Weakness
    • Headache
    • Nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain
    • Slow or fast heart rate
    • Abnormally low or high blood pressure
  • Even a tiny drop of nerve agent on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching where the agent touched the skin.
  • Exposure to a large dose of VX by any route may result in these additional health effects:
    • Loss of consciousness
    • Convulsions
    • Paralysis
    • Respiratory failure leading to death

How does VX compare to sarin gas or mustard gas?

Since VX and sarin are both nerve agents, they have similar effects on the body. But VX is about a hundred times more deadly than sarin when absorbed through the skin and about twice as deadly when inhaled. Moreover, sarin is volatile, evaporates at about the same rate as water, and is deadliest when inhaled, while VX is oil-based, extremely adhesive, and long lasting.  Mustard gas, a blister agent, is less deadly than both VX and sarin but can lead to more lasting health effects, such as cancer and birth defects.

North Americn VX Testing

Following the declassification of secret U.S. documents during October 2002, the suggestion emerged that troops of the Canadian Armed Forces' 15th Artillery Battalion were test subjects in the "Operation Elk Hunt" chemical warfare tests during the 1960's. Documents indicate that Canadian troops from the 15th, as well as other military units, were exposed to VX nerve gas at the Gerstle River Test Site (GRTS) near Fort Greely, Alaska.

"Elk Hunt" Phase 1 and 2 were both conducted near Fort Greely during 1964 and 1965.  "Operation Elk Hunt" Phase 1 was designed to determine the amount of VX nerve agent picked up on the clothing of personnel traversing various types of contaminated terrain.  VX was disseminated from M23 mines detonated underground in three types of terrain and underwater. "Operation Elk Hunt" Phase 2 was similar but added vehicles traversing the contaminated terrain. It has been reported that Canadians conducted 5 of 35 trials.


Further reading

Threat Scenario, Detection, Super Diseases, BZ Gas, Anthrax, Ebola, Glanders, Hantavirus, Pneumonic Plague, Small Pox, Typhoid, VX Gas, Tabun-Sarin-Soman