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Nerve agent

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Decontamination Party in Full Gear- Nerve Agents.JPG

Nerve agents are extremely deadly and harmful chemical agents. They include three classifications, including the V Series, the G Series, and the Novichok Agents. In both liquid and gaseous states they can be extremely potent. In both animals and humans nerve agents can cause a loss of consciousness, convulsions, lack of breathing, loss of control over muscles, and death. Originally created to serve as insecticides, German chemists quickly realized their full potential and the German government began to stockpile the chemical weapons in World War II. Today, they are regulated through the Chemical Weapons Convention, or the CWC.[1] [2] [3]



The most highly developed agent in the V series is called VX, with the "V" standing for "venomous." This agent was concocted in 1952 by Ranajit Ghosh, a chemist working at Britain's Imperial Chemical Industries. The creation of the chemical was an accident, for Ghosh was merely researching for new ingredients to be used as pesticides and never expected to develop such a potent chemical. It was initially sold in the United States under the name of Amiton by the Imperial Chemical Industries in 1954, a mere two years after being discovered.[4]

When it was realized that Amiton was extremely deadly to not only animals and insects but also humans, it was taken off the market. Shortly afterwards the American military and Britain's chemical weapons agency, Porton Down, initiated its use as a chemical weapon and changed its name to VX. Today, only licensed citizens and the government are allowed to maintain possession of the nerve agent. It is ten times as powerful as chemicals in the G series.[1]


The nerve agents within the G-series were first created in the 1930's. They received their name from the group of German chemists, headed by Gerhard Schrader, who first synthesized them. The nerve agents that make up the G series are tabun (more commonly known as GA), soman (GD), cyclosarin (GF) and sarin (GB). Schrader and his team of chemists initially manufactured tabun (GA) in 1936, and shortly followed up with the creation of sarin (GB) in 1938. Afterwards, in 1944, soman (GD)came to existence along with cyclosarin (GF) in 1949. All nerve agents in the G-series are considered nonpersistent, which means that they are unable to exist for extended amounts of time under natural conditions. [5] Although chemicals in the G series are the weakest type of nerve agent, these chemicals are considered some of the most noxious warfare agents ever created by man.[1]

Novichok Agents

During the final days of World War II, the Allies seized and destroyed many of Germany's weapons, including top-secret nerve agents German chemists had attempted to hide from the outside world. During this process, many of the chemical formulas for the agents were discovered by the United States, Britain and Russia. Once the chemical formula for VX, a member of the V-series, was made known to the Soviet Union, Russian chemists immediately began testing the nerve agent. Thus, the Novichok (Russian for "newcomer") Agents, or foliant agents, were developed in the late 1950's. The Soviet Union continued to secretly experiment on Novichok Agents well into the 80's and 90's, despite Russia's promise to NATO to declare all supplies of nerve agents. This activity persisted until an anonymous scientist revealed Russia's experiments with Novichok Agents to the media. Novichok Agents are by far the most toxic nerve chemicals, exceeding the strength of both the G series and the V series.[1]


Nerve agents are highly toxic to humans, and can induce paralysis in many cases, as seen in this picture.

Nerve agents serve as organophosphorus cholinesterase inhibitors in humans. This complicated term means that nerve agents are organic compounds that contain phosphorous, display neurotoxic characteristics and block enzymes located in the heart, brain, and blood from performing hydrolysis. [6][7] Once a nerve agent blocks a tissue enzyme, the enzyme looses the ability to hydrolyze acetylcholine, an ester that allows muscles to move by "transmitting nerve impulses across synapses."[8] This process causes the victim of the nerve agent partial to total paralysis, depending on the dose and method of exposure. Sarin, otherwise known as GB, is the nerve agent with the most known effects. If a human is exposed to a small dose of GB vapor, it will immediately effect the airways, eyes, and nose. Contact with lethal amounts of GB in both vapor and liquid form produce much more debilitating effects, such as loss of consciousness, convulsions, lack of breathing, loss of control over muscles, and death. [2]

One of the first signs of exposure to nerve agents is miosis of the eye, which is the contracting of the pupil. A sharp or dull pain around the eyes or front of the head, dimness or blurriness in vision, nausea, inflammation of the conjunctiva, and occasionally vomiting take place shortly after exposure. A sure sign of the presence of nerve agents in the air is rhinorrhea, which many refer to as a "runny nose." The strength of the rhinorrhea is directly proportional to the dose of the nerve agent.[2]


On January 13, 1993, the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction, otherwise known as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) was signed. This arms control agreement served to outlaw the use, manufacturing, and stockpiling of chemical weapons, including nerve agents. This treaty served as an addition to the Geneva Protocol, created in 1925 for similar purposes. The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, located in Hague, Netherlands, is charged with the management of the treaty. This management includes making certain that out of the 175 countries that have signed so far, none stockpile chemical weapons or manufacture any new chemical weapons. Additionally, each country must destroy much of their current stockpiles. These conditions coincide with the CWC's stated goal: ". . .for the sake of all mankind, to exclude completely the possibility of the use of chemical weapons, through the implementation of the provisions of this Convention." Signed in 1993, the treaty actually took effect in 1997, in the month of April. [9]


A 3D structure of Tabun, the first nerve agent ever synthesized.

In 1934, a relatively unknown German chemist by the name of Gerhard Schrader was tasked by Ig Farben, a German chemical industry, to improve upon preexisting insecticides. While the chemist and his team were developing more effective pesticides, they accidentally found that one of the more potent chemicals they had created had toxic effects on humans. Around two years later the deadly phosphorous insecticide was produced under the name of tabun. This was the first substance to be later recognized as a nerve agent. Between 1942 and 1945 approximately 12,000 tons of the agent was produced. During World War 2 the Germans secretly developed massive quantities of tabun, and other nerve agents such as sarin and soman, also developed by Schrader. Because of the man's discoveries, he is often referred to as "The Father of the Nerve Agents" [10]

Contrary to popular belief, German military forces never utilized these chemical munitions during the war. In the days leading up to the end of WW2 the Allies discovered the stockpiles, destroyed many of the factories that developed the nerve agents, seized the remaining agents, and began to develop and experiment upon their own nerve chemicals.[2]After the discovery of such toxic chemicals, much investigation was poured into transforming the nerve agents into increasingly deadly forms. During this time period, chemists primarily from Britain and the United States researched the chemical makeup and the effects of the nerve agents, as well as a means of protection against the weapon. This research aided in the discovery of new types of nerve agents in the 1950's. These new agents, termed "V-agents" by North American chemists, proved to be much more stable and poisonous than the proceeding chemicals. To this day, those agents discovered in the 1950's are some of the most noxious substances ever created by mankind. [11]


1st Video: Description of VX Nerve Gas. 2nd Video: Military Video (1964) Explaining the Effects of Nerve Agents, Including a Death Scene of a Goat.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Nerve Agents toxipedia. Web. Accessed May 27, 2013. Foley, Shaun.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Unknown Author. Nerve Agents Web. DateAccessed 20 May 2013.
  3. Chemical Weapons Convention. toxipedia. Web. updated Apr 29, 2011. Gilbert, Steven
  4. Amiton Cornell Bio Chem. Web. Accessed May 27, 2013. Sadie.
  5. nonpersitent. The Free Dictionary Web. Accessed May 27, 2013. Unknown Author
  6. cholinesterase. Dictionary Web. Accessed May 20, 2013.Unknown Author
  7. organophosphorous. Dictionary Web. Accessed May 20, 2013.Unknown Author
  8. acetylcholine Dictionary Web. Accessed May 20, 2013.Unknown Author
  9. Chemical Weapons Convention. toxipedia. Web. updated Apr 29, 2011. Gilbert, Steven
  10. Gerhard Schrader. Toxicpedia. Web. Published April 3, 2013. DeCarvalho, Juliana P.
  11. Nerve Agents. ORGANISATION FOR THE PROHIBITION OF CHEMICAL WEAPONS. Web. Published in 1992. Ivarsson U, Nilsson H, Santesson J.