WMD Information Capsules

This page contains "capsules" of information about weapons of mass destruction (WMD). They are meant to be short and easy to commit to memory.  The information is available in open literature found on the Internet.

Chemical Agent

Any substance that is intended for use by terrorists to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate humans (or animals) through its toxicological effects.

Chemical Agents - General Characteristics

  • Are generally liquids when in open or closed containers

  • Are normally disseminated as an aerosol or a gas

  • Can have varying effects on the body ranging from irritation, incapacitation to injury and death

  • Have onset times ranging from seconds to minutes, to several hours or more

  • Are heavier than air except for hydrogen cyanide (HCN)

Common Routes of Absorption

  • Through lungs

  • Through eyes

  • Through skin

Mustard Agent (H)

(Chemical Category: Blister Agent)

Exposure to the Mustard agent (H) can cause injury within minutes, even though signs and symptoms may be delayed for hours. Exposure to other blister agents such as Lewisite (L), Mustard/Lewisite mixture, and phosgene Oxime (CX) result in almost immediate signs and symptoms.

G Agents

  • Tabun (GA), Sarin (GB), Soman (GD) Cyclosarin (GF)
  • Non-persistant
  • Primary hazard: respiratory tract
  • Onset of symptoms: very rapid
  • Odor: none
  • Liquid contact can be deadly
  • Heavier than air


  • Deadliest of the nerve agents
  • Primary hazard: skin absorption
  • Onset time: very fast
  • Very low volatility
  • Nine times heavier air

Nerve Agents - Signs/Symptoms of Exposure

  • Constricted pupils (miosis)
  • Runny nose (rhinorrea)
  • Tightness in chest
  • Coughing, jerking and twitching
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Sudden loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions and apnea

Volatility Comparison Between Water and Chemical Agents

Agent *Volatility (mg/m3)
Hydrogen cyanide  1,000,000
Water 22,900
Sarin (GB) 22,000
Soman (GD) 3,900
Mustard (H) 900
Tabun (GA) 600
VX 10
* Approximate amount of agent (mg) that 1 m3 of air can hold at 25 oC

Vapor Densities of Nerve an Blister Agents (Compared to Air)

GB 4.8
H 5.5
GA 5.6
GF 6.2
GD 6.3
L 7.2
VX 9.2


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Last Update: 11/13/2005 06:04 AM