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Toxic Chemicals: What Are Nerve Agents And What Do They Do?

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The United Kingdom and Russia governments are in a heated war of accusations on the alleged use of nerve agent "novichok" in the poisoning of a father and daughter in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

 Nerve agents are highly-toxic chemicals that can cause instant death.

On March 4, 2018, Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, were poisoned with a military-grade nerve agent called 'novichok' that was allegedly developed and stockpiled by Russia as claimed by British foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

What Are Nerve Agents?

"Nerve agents are highly poisonous chemicals that work by preventing the nervous system from working properly," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

This kind of chemical affects the transmission of nerve impulses in the nervous system. The effects of these toxic chemicals can be fatal.

Among the types of chemical nerve agents include G agents or the classic nerve agents - Sarin (isopropyl methylphosphonofluoridate), Soman (pinacolyl methylphosphonofluoridate), and Tabun (O-ethyl dimethylamidophosphorylcyanide). The most common V agent is called VX.

Nerve agents can be in the form of gas, and powder but the most commonly used nerve agents are in liquid form that can easily seep through the skin and through respiration or inhaling.

Chemical War Weapons

Nerve agents are among the chemical weapons banned by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. These highly toxic chemicals have been used since the World War 2.

Nerve agents belong to the group of chemicals called organo-phosphorus compounds. These can be easily manufactured, and the raw materials are inexpensive and readily available.

In the 1930s, German chemist first observed that organo-phosphorus compounds could be poisonous. A few years later, chemist Dr. Gerhard Schrader, developed a pesticide based on phosphorus compound.

Later on, this chemical substance with extremely high toxicity was classified as tabun. Tabun was among the first to be categorized as a nerve agent. In 1938, another type of nerve agent called sarin was developed.

Soman was produced in 1944. V agents that were developed in the 1950s are said to be 10 times more poisonous than sarin, including VX that was first manufactured in 1961.

Highly Toxic Effects

Nerve agents are highly toxic, and even very small amounts of it can be fatal if inhaled or swallowed. It can also damage the skin and eyes.

The manifestation of exposure to nerve agents includes a runny nose, feeling of tightness in the chest, shortness of breath, excessive salivation and sweating, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, involuntary defecation and urination, muscle twitching, confusion, seizures, paralysis, coma, respiratory paralysis, and death.

Incapacitating effects of never agents occur within one to 10 minutes after exposure. Fatal effects can occur within one to 10 minutes of exposure for tabun, soman, and sarin, and within four to 18 hours for VX agent.

If a person exposed to nerve agent survives the exposure incident, symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, nervousness, and memory defects may persist for as long as six weeks after recovery.

The nerve agent sarin was believed to be used in the 2017 chemical attack in Syria

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