When most people consider the threat from weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear bomb is likely to come to mind. While nuclear weapons certainly pose a huge risk to our nation and modern world, they are costly to develop and mostly out of reach from terrorist organizations. Chemical weapons, on the other hand, are much more available worldwide and can often be created using commercially available materials.
Beginning in 490 B.C, when the Spartans burned pitch and sulphur together to create a toxic gas, chemical weapons have been used to wage war around the world. (Reaching Critical Will, 2008). While they were relatively simple in those days, modern technology has spawned a great number of different weapons with much more lethal effects. Most of the commonly used weapons of today can be broken down into three groups depending on how they affect the body. These include nerve agents, blister agents, and choking agents. Out of these three, nerve agents are usually the most deadly because of how effectively they interrupt the nervous system. While there are many varieties, the most deadly and popular nerve agent is known as sarin gas. At room temperature, it is a clear, colorless liquid with a boiling point of 158 degrees C. Despite its high boiling point, sarin is unstable in liquid form and will readily vaporize at room temperature producing a highly toxic gas (Judson, 2004, p.56). Once converted into a gas, it can kill in a matter of minutes at high doses by interrupting the body’s control of the muscles needed for breathing (Sarin Fact Sheet, 2008). This is achieved by inhibiting the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, an important chemical needed for muscle contraction. The role of this enzyme is to allow a musc...
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...rd: C4H8Cl2S, nitrogen mustard: C5H11Cl2N, phosgene oxime: CHCl2NO, and lewisite: C2H2AsCl3. Protection from them would include a sealed skin protection suit and respiratory protection in the form of a gas mask (Chemical Weapon, 2009).
Today the use and manufacture of chemical weapons has been banned around the world, but one final hurdle still remains. Many countries, including the United States and Russia, still have thousands of tons of these weapons stockpiled from previous wars. Congress finally took action in 1986 requiring our country’s weapons to be destroyed due to the “concern that the probabilities of leaking and of a serious accident increase as the stockpile ages” (Greenberg, 2003). Many nations have now followed our example and signed treaties pledging to eliminate their arsenal, in hope that one day the world will finally be rid of chemical weapons.
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