British soldiers blinded by gas, April 1918
After the first German chlorine gas attacks, Allied troops were supplied with masks of cotton pads that had been soaked in urine.
It was found that the ammonia in the pad neutralized the chlorine. These pads were held over the face until the soldiers could escape from the poisonous fumes. Other soldiers preferred to use handkerchiefs, a sock, a flannel body-belt, dampened with a solution of bicarbonate of soda, and tied across the mouth and nose until the gas passed over.
Soldiers found it difficult to fight like this and attempts were made to develop a better means of protecting men against gas attacks. By July 1915 soldiers were given efficient gas masks and anti-asphyxiation respirators.
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Mustard gas is really a liquid and is not likely to change into a gas immediately if it is released at ordinary temperatures. As a pure liquid, it is colorless and odorless, but when mixed with other chemicals, it looks brown and has a garlic-like smell.
Mustard gas was used in chemical warfare and was made in large amounts during World Wars I and II. It was reportedly used in the Iran-Iraq war in 1984-1988. It's presently used in the United States for research purposes. The U.S. Secretary of Defense was instructed to destroy all remaining stocks of lethal military chemical agents, including mustard gas, by 1997.
Mustard gas has been a favorite chemical weapon in wars because it can be fairly easily delivered via conventional bombs, rockets and artillery shells and because mustard gas contamination can render an area unusable by enemy forces
This former soldier (Harry Milton Russell) shows the terrible scarring associated with mustard gas burns.
Mustard agents, also known as “blistering agents” or “mustard gas,” produce wounds resembling burns or blisters when they come into contact with the skin. These agents may also cause severe damage to other organs such as the eyes, the respiratory system, and internal organs. They got the name “mustard agents” from an early production method that yielded a mustard-smelling agent.
Mustard gas was produced in 1822 and was first used as a chemical warfare agent in WWI. Iraq also used large amounts of mustard gas in the war against Iran from 1979-1988.
Symptoms are usually delayed between two and 24 hours resulting in severe cell damage before the patient may even know they have been exposed. Mild toxicity will result in symptoms such as eye pain, lacrimation, irritation of the mucous membranes, inflammation of the skin, hoarseness, coughing and sneezing. Severe toxicity may result in blistering, blindness, nausea, vomiting and respiratory complications. The leading cause of death after mustard agent exposure is lung injury.
Lung injuries start with mild symptoms and gradually increase and ultimately result in chemical pneumonia and pulmonary edema. A drastic reduction in the number of white blood cells is seen approximately 5-10 days after a large exposure and it’s effects on the bone marrow and lymphatic tissue look similar to radiation exposure. This leaves the patient at significant risk of infection.
Decontamination is the most important treatment that can be done for a mustard exposed patient. Removal of clothing, bathing, flushing of the eyes, and washing of the hair are key initial management steps. Some people go as far as to say you should shave hair completely off if it has been exposed. Treatment beyond this is primarily supportive and includes antibiotics and pain medication.
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