Font Size
A
A
A

Chemical Warfare (cont.)

Mustards

Sulfur mustard has been used as a chemical weapon since World War I. Nitrogen mustard, a derivative of sulfur mustard, was one of the first chemotherapy agents but never has been used in warfare. These agents cause blistering of exposed surfaces. Both mustard agents rapidly penetrate cells and generate a highly toxic reaction that disrupts cell function and causes cell death. The chemical reaction is both temperature dependent and aided by the presence of water, which explains why warm, moist tissues are affected more severely. Actively reproducing cells, such as skin and blood cells, are most at risk.

Physical properties: Mustards are oily liquids with odors of mustard, onion, garlic, or horseradish. Highly soluble in oils, fats, and organic solvents, mustards quickly penetrate skin and most materials, including rubber and most textiles. Sulfur mustard is considered a persistent agent with low volatility at cool temperatures but becomes a major vapor hazard at high temperatures. Exposure to mustard vapor, not mustard liquid, is the primary medical concern. More than 80% of mustard casualties in World War I were caused by exposure to mustard vapor. Mustard vapor is 3 times more toxic than a similar concentration of cyanide gas; however, mustard liquid is also quite toxic. Skin exposure to as little as 1-1.5 teaspoons of liquid (7 g) is lethal to half of those exposed.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/5/2014
Medical Author:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:
Medical Editor:

Must Read Articles Related to Chemical Warfare

Biological Warfare
Biological Warfare Biological weapons include any organism (such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi) or toxin found in nature that can be used to kill or injure people. (Toxins are po...learn more >>
Chemical Burns
Chemical Burns Chemical burns can occur in the home, at work or school, and as a result of accident or assault. Although few people in the United States die after contact with...learn more >>
Chemical Eye Burns
Chemical Eye Burns Chemical exposure to any part of the eye or eyelid may result in a chemical eye burn. Chemical burns represent 7-10% of eye injuries. About 15-20% of burns to t...learn more >>



Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

CBRNE - Chemical Warfare Mass Casualty Management »

This article is for managers who prepare hospital operational plans, for leaders responsible for response activities within a hospital, and for hospital health care providers.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


Medical Dictionary