A chemical threat is fear of a release of poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids, and solids being dispensed into the air or water ways which would have a toxic effect on people, animals, and/or plants.
Chemical agent or chemical poisons are primarily used in war, terrorism and riot control. These kinds of chemical threats are very real and are often dispensed through bombs or via some type of projectile. They can also be sprayed from aircraft, boats, and vehicles or shot out of some type of weapon.
Several things you should keep in mind about chemical threats:
- While potentially lethal, they are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations
- Chemical agents are difficult to produce in large quantities
- A chemical attack could come without warning
- They dissipate rapidly outdoors
- Chemical poisons may be odorless and tasteless and hard to detect
Types of Chemical Warfare Agents
Chemical warfare agents are substances intended for use in military operations to kill, seriously injure or incapacitate people because of its physiological effects. Excluded from this definition are riot control agents, herbicides, smoke, and flame.
Top 3 agents used for chemical terrorism:
The nerve agents are a group of particularly toxic chemical warfare agents. They were developed just before and during World War II and are related chemically to the organophosphorus insecticides. The principle agents in this group are tabun, sarin and methylphosphonothioic acid.
Blister or Vesicant Agents
Blister or vesicant agents are likely to be used both to produce casualties and to force opposing troops to wear full protective equipment thus degrading fighting efficiency, rather than to kill, although exposure to such agents can be fatal. Blister agents can be thickened in order to contaminate terrain, ships, aircraft, vehicles or equipment with a persistent hazard.
Vesicants burn and blister the skin or any other part of the body they contact. They act on the eyes, mucous membranes, lungs, skin and blood-forming organs. They damage the respiratory tract when inhaled and cause vomiting and diarrhea when ingested. Types of vesicant agents are sulfur mustard and nitrogen mustard.
"Chemical agents which attack lung tissue, primarily causing pulmonary edema, are classed as lung damaging agents", according to the Federation of American Scientists. On that page, they state that the types of choking agents are phosgene, diphosgene, chloropicrin and chlorine.
Chemical Agent Effects on People
Depending upon the type of chemical, it can either have an immediate effect (seconds to minutes) or a delayed effect (2-48 hours).
Signs of a chemical release include people having difficulty breathing, experiencing eye irritation, losing coordination, becoming nauseated, or having a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs.
Also, the presence of many dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.
Chemical Attack Survival
In most cases, the authorities will ask you to shelter-in-place if a suspected chemical threat is imminent. When this happens, you will be asked to remain in your home or office. To be safe, you need to do the following immediately:
- Close all doors and windows that face the outside of the building. Turn off all ventilation systems, including furnaces and air conditioners. If you have any fans running inside the building, even small portable fans, turn them off, too.
- Take shelter in the innermost part of the building. If you have a disaster survival bag, and I hope you do, take that with you. In most cases, a chemical threat may only take hours, but in extreme cases, it could take days.
- When you get to the room where you plan to take shelter, seal the room plastic sheeting and duct tape. Every crack, every vent, every hole needs to be covered.
- Make sure you listen to your NOAA radio for instructions from authorities. They will let you know when it is safe to leave your sanctuary.
- If you are caught in or near a contaminated area, you should:
- Move away as quickly as possible in a direction upwind of the source of the chemical contaminant.
- Find a safe shelter as quickly as possible where you can wait for the air to clear.
After a Chemical Attack
To minimize health issues, a person must be decontaminated within minutes of exposure to a chemical agent. Until told to do so by the authorities, stay inside where it is safe. Even if it appears that others need help, do not go outside the safety of a facility or place of shelter.
Anyone who has been affected by any kind of chemical must seek professional medical help. If it is not possible to get to a medical professional immediately, read the procedures below to learn how to decontaminate yourself. It is critical that this be done as soon as possible. If anyone else has been exposed to a chemical threat or directly come in contact with a chemical, they should follow the same procedure or you should help them if you can.
- Carefully remove clothing being cautious to avoid contact with the face.
- Place clothing in a plastic bag and ensure it is properly sealed shut
- Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a container with bleach to decontaminate them. Rinse with warm water and dry.
- Wash hands thoroughly with warm soap and water.
- Flush eyes with water and gently wash face and hair with soap and water. Rinse with warm water.
- Wash remainder of the body that could have been contaminated. Rinse with warm water.
- Change into uncontaminated clothes.
Chemical Threat Sources
Federation of American Scientists - Types of Chemical Weapons
FEMA - Chemical Attacks
An Emergency Resource might want to consider:
The picture below is of a Grab-N-Go Emergency Kit. It is a 2-person, 3-day bag. If you have ever heard of a 72-hour bag, this is an example of that. Click the link to see what all is included. It is an inexpensive way to provide the basic necessities of life if you have to leave your home in a hurry. This is another resource you may find makes a huge difference in a time of need.