All survivalists, indeed all citizens everywhere, should give proper thought and consideration to the threat posed by Nuclear, Biological, Chemical (NBC) and Radiological agents, particularly chemical agents as they are the most likely to be encountered in dozens of possible situations. It is a fact of life that chemicals are everywhere, be they in surplus military storage depots, the local chemical plant down the road, the chemical laden train moving through the county, the semi hauling a tank filled with chemicals, or the nefarious terrorist who has finally realized that all he needed to make some very nasty blood agents was a basic high-school/college level education in chemistry, some basic lab equipment, and precursor chemicals easily ordered online or common found in any college chemistry class. The main defense against NBC threats is knowledge, knowledge which leads to preparations. You have to understand the potential threats and realize what steps need to be taken to prepare/counter them.
I believe there is a certain degree of overlap with preparations for chemical agents and preparations for radiological/biological hazards, and since my knowledge has to deal with chemistry/chemicals rather than specific biological hazards, I will refrain from making too many remarks about biological hazards and instead go with what I know, chemistry/chemicals. Suffice to say, while there are no guarantees in life, the gas mask and NBC suit that buy you time to leave an area rich with VX contamination, should also buy you time to leave an area that has just been contaminated by Anthrax or some other biological agent, that said, I’d still much rather have a full self-contained breathing apparatus when dealing with a biological hazard.
With that in mind, I’ll discuss the “C” aspect of NBC warfare.
Broadly speaking there are three primary ways to encounter chemical agents:
For regular citizens not actively deployed in a hostile foreign nation or fighting in some other context, the most likely way to encounter a chemical agent is through some sort of industrial accident, be it corporate negligence or equipment failures causing a release at a chemical production/storage facility (as was the case in Bhopal India in 1984 where the leakage of an isocyanate killed 3,000 and injured over 500,000), the derailment of a train carrying chemical agents (as was the case in Graniteville, South Carolina in 2005 where chlorine gas killed several and injured several hundred), or some mishap in the disposal of military held chemical stockpiles (supposedly several bases/facilities throughout the USA are in the process of incinerating or otherwise neutralizing chemical agents, thus creating a potential for a leak/accident, particularly in the transportation process).
It is a fact of life that each and every day there are thousands of trucks on the road hauling tanks filled with chemicals that could kill or sicken thousands if the trucks were to crash, and the tanks were to rupture, in a populated area. It is also another fact of life that there are easily dozens if not hundreds of trains operating on a daily basis that are loaded with similarly dangerous chemicals. In the United States we have been fortunate in that we have avoided major chemical releases along the lines of what happened in Bhopal, India in 1984, although as time goes by, infrastructure begins to wear down, communities become more complacent about what is going on at the local plant, officials become increasingly corrupt, etc, numerous factors may exist for a potential chemical disaster…
At any rate, we should certainly be aware of the daily risk posed by trucks and trains. The main ways to mitigate the risk posed by industrial/military accidents would be to keep a quality gas-mask (with a quality filter) handy in your home and your vehicle, for everybody who lives in your home and everybody who regularly rides in your vehicle, know how to recognize the signs of a chemical incident (to be addressed shortly), know how to properly use your gas mask (to be addressed shortly), and know what your gas mask can and cannot do for you (to be addressed shortly).
It is worth noting that my father was injured in an industrial chemical accident, decades ago, and was incapacitated for over a week after just a few seconds of exposure to a choking agent (specifically he was sprayed in the face with phosgene). Even if you are not outright killed by a chemical agent, a few seconds exposure may leave you an incapacitated chemical casualty for a week or longer
Soldiers in war are exposed to the ever-present threat that an enemy nation may resort to using chemical weapons, particularly fast acting fast dissipating agents (such as Hydrogen Cyanide), that would give a tactical advantage and possibly help sway the course of a battle. However, if you are a serviceman or servicewoman you have doubtlessly endured hours of instruction on NBC defense, although it may help you to continue reading and perhaps learn a few new things. At any rate, exposure via war is pretty much self-explanatory. However, I will address a few aspects about which specific agents people may expect to encounter in a war context, and the particulars of the chemical weapons use policies/doctrines of certain nations.
For example, due to their military doctrine, it is highly likely American citizens (at least those near areas of active combat/fighting) will be exposed to Russian chemical weapons in the event Russians ever invade the USA. Furthermore, any American citizens acting as insurgents/rebels against an occupation by Russians or similarly oriented communist forces (anybody trained/educated by the Russians/Soviets) will likely be exposed to chemical agents. Such issues will be addressed shortly…
Terrorists, the modern bogeymen, few know who they are, where they will strike, or when they will strike. All we know is that they are out there, likely living seemingly normal lives until the point where they make their move to secure their seventy-two virgins. The anthrax scare during the last decade was pretty much a whole lot of brew-ha-ha about nothing, because a few elected officials receiving contaminated letters does not translate into a regional crisis that could infect millions.
Simply stated, whoever was behind the anthrax scare, all they were going for was a psychological victory, their choice of delivery system pretty well proved that they were not out to infect and kill millions. Because well-meaning survivalists and decent American citizens are not the only ones with access to the internet, I am going to refrain from discussing what would have been an optimal delivery system for dispersing anthrax to maximize the causality rate. Suffice to say that the choice the anthrax terrorist made, that of mailing letters to a few officials, revealed that they were not serious about infecting the masses, but rather wanted to scare/terrorize the masses.
However, with all of that said, the terrorist chemical threat is potentially serious because some chemical agents (agents that can kill within minutes if not sooner) can be prepared with commonly available chemicals that have legitimate industrial/commercial uses and thus are easily obtainable, by anybody who has access to basic laboratory equipment. With a few thousand dollars to procure commonly available chemicals, access to a chemical laboratory equipped to at least basic college standards, and a few days time, I could prepare enough chemical agents to cause at least tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of chemical casualties in a major urban area. Again, for security purposes, I will refrain from discussing what agent/s I am referring to, what the precursor chemicals are, and what the optimal method of dissemination is, suffice to say that the threat is potentially very real and it is simply our good fortune that terrorists have not already figured it out.
So, now that you understand that the threat is real, you may be asking, “well what can I do about it?” and fortunately for you, yours truly has an answer…
First, you need a quality gas-mask… Allow me to discuss those that I have experience with…
M40 Field Protective Mask
I have personal experience with the M40 field protective mask and I find the mask quite adequate, with the only possible drawback being that it is a two eye-piece mask instead of a one eye-piece mask, so there is something of a gap or a blind spot in your vision, unlike the new commercial gas masks and some [U.S. Air Force masks]. However, many of the new commercial gas masks take odd commercial filters that are expensive and hard to find, and they may or may not be compatible with a ballistic helmet. I can say with one hundred percent certainty, my M40 field protective mask is fully compatible with my ballistic helmet, it fits comfortably with the helmet, it uses commonly available 40mm standard NATO filters, and with the filter mounting on either the left or right side (as opposed to the front with some gas masks) I can actually shoulder my rifle and aim down the sights. Note that even with a gas mask mounting a filter on the other side, you will still have to get used to cheek placement in regards to how you use your iron sights, it can be a bit tricky at first and some folks may find it easier to just go with an EoTech type sight when using a gas mask. The M40 gas mask also has a provision for using a special tube to drink out of a gas-mask. You can also purchase an adapter kit that will let you hook up your gas-mask to a water bladder, although you must make certain that the water bladder is rated for use in an NBC environment and make sure that your water bladder tube is rated for use in an NBC environment. It is also worth mentioning that you can change the filter without having to remove the mask.
The main drawback of the M40 gas mask is that it is typically expensive when you can find it (usually $200-$300 dollars), although I was able to buy mine in gently used condition for less than $70 dollars because a major urban police department was apparently switching over to something else (probably some new, untested, and incredibly expensive commercial mask, with the bill being footed by the tax-paying citizens) and they were getting rid of the masks that had doubtlessly been given to them for free by the US Army. Supposedly the military is in the process of shifting away from the M40 field protective mask due to the mask’s physical weakness against blister agents (specifically issues with the mask suffering corrosion due to blister agents). However, for reasons I will be addressing shortly, I don’t believe blister agents are likely to be encountered.
One final warning, try to be reasonably certain your mask isn’t stolen military property. To my knowledge soldiers still have to account for their gas masks and they’re not treated like canteens or magazine pouches where if you “misplace” or “lose” it, you get to cut Uncle Sam a check and all is forgiven. Losing a gas mask isn’t as severe as “losing” a rifle or “losing” night vision optics, but if you “lose” your gas mask you’re going to have some problems. There are a lot of M40 field protective masks on the surplus market and they are probably okay to buy. However, if you come across an M50 joint service general purpose mask, unless it is the commercial/police version of the mask, the item is probably stolen government property.
The M50 is said to be replacing the M40 even though most soldiers have yet to see an M50 mask. My best friend, who is active duty, has informed me that most Marines still have the M40 field protective mask although many of them have at least had basic exposure to the M50 joint service general purpose mask. That said, there shouldn’t be too many M50 masks legitimately available for sale because the mask hasn’t even been fully phased into service with the Marine Corps, let alone the Army, as is the intention/plan (the Marines and Army are to both receive the mask). That stated, I will be keeping his eyes open for the first opportunity to legally obtain an M50 joint service general purpose mask. From what I’ve has read, the military version (M50) is to be preferred to the basic commercial/police version (FM50) because it is more adaptable for use in combat and it has more options/features such as linking to a hydration bladder or a canteen. That said, another commercial version, the C50 looks as though it may be promising. I will be placing the lawful acquisition of either an M50 joint service general purpose mask or a C50 mask, or failing either of those, the FM50 mask, high on his priority list for the near future. If and when successful, I will evaluate the mask and give it a thorough review.
Czech M10 and U.S. M17 Series Gas Masks
I don’t have a whole lot of positive things to say about a gas mask that uses cheek filters that require taking the mask off when it comes time to switch the filters. This is true of the Czech M10 and U.S. M17 series gas masks. (The M10 is a clone of the M17.) Maybe there’s something wrong with me but the idea of taking my mask off in a chemically compromised environment, or an area rich with radiological hazards, so I can spend several minutes switching the filters, seems rather counter-intuitive. What the M10 gas mask has going for it is that it is inexpensive, readily available, and it doesn’t interfere with wearing a ballistic helmet or shouldering/aiming a rifle because it has internal cheek filters instead of the standard 40mm NATO filter that is used by almost every other gas mask. That said, the M10 gas mask should only be considered as a “stop gap” gas-mask, or the “until I can find and afford a better one” gas mask. The M10 gas mask might also function well if the only anticipated threats are CS or CN riot control agents.
M15 Israeli Masks
These are the new style of Israeli surplus gas masks, much more comfortable than the older style (which I would only recommend for those on a tight budget or with nothing better), but they suffer from many setbacks common to gas-masks made primarily with civilians in mind. The filter is in the front and it greatly interferes with the ability to shoulder/aim a rifle, probably because nobody expected somebody wearing a civilian gas mask to need to shoulder/aim a rifle. The main advantage to this mask is that it is cheap (at least they were cheap when I bought four of them back in 2006 for about $100 dollars for all four, each coming with a filter). In regards to filters they use the friendly 40mm NATO standard filter. Also, unsurprisingly, this civilian gas mask does not fit well with a ballistic helmet and leaves the wearer uncomfortable. Obviously the mask was designed with the idea in mind that regular civilians would be sitting around doing nothing other than avoiding exposure to a chemical threat, instead of trying to shoulder/aim a rifle or operate with a ballistic helmet on. I also have an old style Israeli surplus gas mask that predates the M15 series and I find it too uncomfortable to consider seriously recommending for anything other than a “stop gap” gas mask until something better can be obtained. If you can obtain old style Israeli surplus gas masks for perhaps $10 dollars each (with filters), they might be worth considering as “hand out” gas masks or “shelter in place” gas masks, or a gas mask for tucking into the drawer at the office. However, the M15 Israeli gas mask should be considered for those roles if they can be obtained at a reasonable cost.
I don’t know much about the various commercial gas masks on the market other than that they appear to be pretty reliable and useful with their single one-piece lens design (very common with commercial gas masks). However, they also tend to use specialized and often mask specific commercial filters that are likely to be expensive and certainly difficult to find in any situation where the supply chain has broken down or otherwise been interrupted. Another mark against commercial gas-masks is that they are generally very expensive (anywhere from $200 to $350 dollars for the basic mask with one single filter) whereas a surplus M40 field protective mask can be obtained (if you shop smart and find a good deal- such as the case with the mask I purchased) for under $70 dollars. Ultimately it will be a matter of your budget, your needs, and your personal preference.
However, I would like to give one final caveat in regards to the commercial masks, while they are supposedly rated for deadly agents (blood agents, blister agents, choking agents, nerve agents) and not just less-than-lethal agents such as CS (tear gas), they seldom find themselves in situations where they might be put to a serious test. They may or may not perform as rated by the company. If a few hundred masks fail then the company has to worry about some lawsuits. If a few hundred or a few thousand American military issued gas masks fail on soldiers in the field, then the Pentagon, Department of Defense, and possibly the Congress and President have to worry about a major scandal on their hands. Gulf War syndrome aside (something that I believe is real and something that I will discuss later), US military issue gas masks/NBC gear probably function as rated/declared. However, from personal experience, there is only one thing I can declare with absolute certainty: The M40 field protective mask protects the user from CS tear gas. I know this firsthand as his M40 field protective mask worked fine when I was in a room filled with CS tear gas. I have also conducted tests with the M15 Israeli gas mask and can certify that the gas mask, with the proper filter, provided fine protection against CS tear gas.
I tend to believe the US military surplus masks will reliably protect against lethal agents (blood agents, blister agents, choking agents, nerve agents, etc) because they were issued in times when the threat of an enemy attack using chemical weapons was a very real prospect (i.e. Gulf War 1 and depending on what you believe about Iraq’s supposed weapons programs, Gulf War 2). If hundreds of thousands of American personnel had gone into combat with less than adequate masks and been killed or incapacitated by sarin, soman, hydrogen cyanide, mustard, etc, it would have caused a huge uproar across the entire USA. If a few thousand soldiers or contractors bought their own commercial masks which they then used and experienced mask failures, the worst the company could expect would be a few dozen lawsuit or perhaps a few hundred lawsuits (depending on how many soldiers used them and had them fail). If government issued military masks were to fail, it could very well cost dozens of senators/congressmen their seats/careers, cost multiple generals their careers/pensions, and become a huge scandal. Gulf War Syndrome aside, it is my opinion that US military surplus NBC gear (designed/manufactured from at least the 1980s onward, 1990s is better) will provide the protection as stated.
Also, don’t forget to obtain a number of equipment decontamination kits for decontaminating any equipment (i.e. your expensive battle rifle or your night vision optic) that might become exposed to chemical contaminants. I was able to find a pack of four decontamination kits at a gun show for just five dollars. The DECONTAMINATION KIT, INDIVIDUAL EQUIPMENT: M295. It would be a shame if you had an awesome gas mask, a great NBC suit, and you avoided dying from a nerve agent attack, only to die a few hours later after you left the chemically rich environment, removed your suit, and then touched your still-contaminated rifle. Obtain proper decontamination kits and follow the instructions (that come with the kit) for how to use properly use the kit.
So now that you’re well on your way to selecting a gas-mask you may wonder what to do with it once you get it? Well first you need to realize what your gas mask can and cannot do for you… The gas mask does not function as a self-contained breathing apparatus that enables you to stay in an area with no oxygen/air due to the oxygen having been displaced by a chemical/gaseous agent. A gas mask filters out certain chemical/biological hazards enabling you to breathe filtered air. That stated, you still need air/oxygen to breathe. If all of the oxygen in the air has been displaced by chemicals you will suffocate, even if you have a gas mask on.
I’m not sure how to state it any simpler than that, if you are in a confined area you need to get out of the confined area because an area with a limited amount of air could rapidly become an area with no air due to the air/oxygen being displaced by gas. Gas masks do not generate oxygen; they simply filter contaminated air so you can breathe filtered air.
If you’re looking for a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA — which means you have your own supply of oxygen to breathe from) as opposed to a gas mask then by all means look for one, but such devices are outside the scope of this article and as I have no personal experience with a self-contained breathing apparatus (other than those of the underwater variety, i.e. SCUBA variety) I shall refrain from commenting on which self-contained breathing apparatus does this or that in regards to NBC protection.
I also want to stress that a gas mask by itself does not provide full protection against certain agents (nerve agents, blister agents, etc) because those agents will either be absorbed through the skin (nerve agents) or will burn exposed skin (blister agents).To achieve optimal protection against a nerve agent you need to be wearing a complete NBC suit (with the hood, the gloves, and the boot covers) in addition to a gas mask with a filter rated for a nerve agent (even then you need to be aware that many filters, especially commercial filters, may only provide 20-40 minutes of protection in an area rich with certain agents before they are compromised, the idea is that you get out of Dodge). There’s one thing about nerve agents I really want to hammer home, nerve agents quickly saturate filters. Ditto for blister and blood agents. [So you will need lots of spares and will need to practice changing them rapidly.] It is worth noting that the mask itself should be immediately changed after use if it was exposed to hydrogen cyanide. Against most of the nastier agents the life of filters is often measured in a few hours or less. If you’re going to spend a lot of time in a chemically rich environment you’re going to need to be able to change filters and you’re going to need to know how to change filters in a chemically contaminated environment (a technique useful to know, but one that would not be my first choice–my first choice would be getting out of Dodge).
When selecting a gas-mask make sure that it fits comfortably and is properly sized for your face. You’re going to have to make sure you can obtain a proper seal and it will entail just a little bit of work… Gentlemen, if you’re sporting a beard then now is the time to shave because you will be unable to obtain a proper seal unless you are clean shaven.
When testing for a proper seal have a friend standing by just in the event you become panicked upon being unable to breathe and end up requiring assistance getting the mask off (this may happen the first time you try to obtain a proper seal). Make sure that the filter connector (the place where you screw the filter into the mask) is open and unobstructed. After donning the mask and adjusting the straps to assure it fits comfortably you will then place your hand over the filter connector and attempt to breathe.
You should be able to exhale but unable to inhale and every time you attempt to inhale the mask should slightly collapse in towards your face (try this several times to make sure you are indeed unable to breathe and thus have obtained a proper seal). Note that if at any time during the procedure you feel panicked by a lack of being able to inhale, remove your hand from the filter connector and breathe normally. If necessary your assistant can help you in removing the mask if you feel panicked by being unable to breathe or if you are beset with a sudden claustrophobic attack due to having a gas mask on your face (it may take some getting used to for some people).
Once you have a proper seal without a filter the next step is to make sure you can obtain a proper seal with a filter. I know that conventional wisdom states that you don’t want to open a filter until you are ready to use it; however I believe that if you’re going to have a gas-mask ready at hand you’re going to have to have the filter opened, on the mask, and ready to go. The gas mask I keep in my bed-room has a filter on it, ready to go, otherwise it wouldn’t be particularly useful (try donning a gas mask, unsealing/uncapping a filter, and then screwing the filter into place when under stress, all while holding your breath with your eyes closed, you’ll see the merit in keeping your gas mask ready to go).
Speaking from my own personal experience I had a standard 40mm NATO filter, unsealed and open, sitting on my closet shelf for about four years and when I finally screwed it into place on the gas mask and used it in a room filled with CS tear gas, it worked beautifully. That said, I wouldn’t necessarily rely on that filter as my “go to filter” for protection against anything more serious than CS tear gas, because it has already been used to filter one chemical agent, it may have a diminished ability to provide protection against other chemical agents (i.e. lethal agents).
However, I have no problem with the idea of using an unsealed and opened filter, that has never been exposed to any sort of chemical agent, as a “go to filter” that is kept in place on the mask to wait for the situation that you hope never comes. I don’t doubt that an open and unsealed filter will provide the protection it is rated to provide because I have seen the filters do that (although only in regards to CS tear gas, I have never been exposed to nerve agents, blood agents, blister agents, choking agents, etc).
Filters that I have opened/unsealed and exposed to CS tear gas go into the pile labeled “save these for use testing future gas mask” and they will stay there, serving that function, unless there is a dire emergency.
To make sure you have a proper seal with the filter on the mask, make sure you open and unseal the filter (you don’t want to suffocate yourself by trying to breathe through a sealed filter), then carefully screw the filter into the filter connector on your mask. After you have done those things you should don the gas mask and then place your hand over the opening on the filter (the opening that was previously covered by the seal that you removed before donning the mask).
Again, as was the case with the seal test without the filter in place, you should be able to exhale but you should not be able to inhale, when you inhale you should be unable to breathe and the mask should slightly move inwards to your face. After doing this inhale/exhale business two or three times (being able to exhale but not inhale) it should feel as though you are unable to breathe and that you are suffocating (because if you have a proper seal you won’t be able to breath while blocking the intake for the filter). Simply remove your hand from the filter opening and breathe normally. If you encounter any problems remove your mask immediately or have your friend help you remove it.
Once you’re satisfied that you can safely and effectively obtain a proper seal with your gas mask and that you can breathe properly with the filter in place, I suggest that you wear the gas mask around (at first without a filter in place, later with an open filter in place- use a filter at your discretion, depending on your supply of filters) so you can become acclimated to the burdens of operating while wearing a gas-mask. Try shouldering a rifle, try aiming with your rifle, try aiming your pistol, if you have access to a shooting range where people won’t give you funny looks for wearing a gas mask, trying shooting while wearing your gas mask. You might be surprised how difficult it becomes to do something as simple as shouldering a rifle or properly aiming a rifle. If you have a gas-mask with a filter that is off to one side or the other you will certainly appreciate it. If your gas mask filter is in front of the mask you’ll probably be cursing yourself and wishing that you had obtained a gas mask with a side-mounted filter.
If you really want to have some fun try doing some light exercises or household chores while wearing the gas-mask, it will help get you used to wearing one. Although I would again like to remind the readers that the purpose of a gas mask is not to allow you to go about business as usual for the next 6-12 hours or however long it may be, the purpose is to buy you the time needed to get out of the chemically (or biologically) contaminated area. Even still, it will help if you have some basic conditioning for operating in a gas mask, not to mention it will help gauge your overall physical condition and probably help boost your physical condition to a degree.
That said, if at any time while wearing a gas mask you ever feel panicked for any reason, be it difficulty breathing or an attack of claustrophobia, remove your gas mask or have your friend help you remove it (one of my gas-mask rules is that you shouldn’t use gas masks when alone, the only exceptions being emergencies or if your training is sufficient that you know how to avoid suffocating yourself). There have been instances where people had difficulty breathing while wearing gas masks and they believed it was because they had been exposed to contaminants, giving them all the reason in the world to believe they needed to keep their gas masks on, when the problem was that they had failed to unseal the filter connected to the mask.
So now that you know how to properly obtain a seal and how to safely wear a gas mask you might wonder what sort of agents are you likely to encounter?
There are several broad categories of chemical agents and they can be broken down as follows: Blood agents, Nerve agents, Choking agents, Blister agents, and Irritant/Disabling agents
These agents operate primarily via inhalation (theoretically you could also ingest them) and they are absorbed into the bloodstream. Death can often result within several minutes depending on the manner of exposure and the level of exposure. Death is usually caused by respiratory failure. One of the most useful (from a tactical perspective) is Hydrogen Cyanide, although there are other blood agents (such as cyanogen and cyanogen bromide).
A key sign of exposure to a blood agent is the breathing cycle is stimulated to such a severe level that the exposed individual cannot hold their breath. According to Jared Ledgard in A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents, violent convulsions usually follow within 30 seconds of cessation of respiration starting after 1 minute of exposure. One of the early indicators of exposure is a rapid increase in heart rate combined with the onset of deep breathing. Death will usually occur within 5 minutes of inhalation of a lethal level.
It is my opinion that in a war with a major power, blood agents (specifically Hydrogen Cyanide) are very likely to be encountered. For protection against blood agents, for the most part, a gas mask with a quality filter will suffice, although blood agents can quickly compromise many filters. Fortunately hydrogen cyanide is usually neutralized by nature in normal weather conditions within 60-120 seconds, although it can persist for upwards of 12 hours in colder weather (cold as in approximately 40 degrees). Make sure that you are not relying on a charcoal based filter as they are insufficient/ineffective against most blood agents.
Be aware that the cyanide agents (i.e. hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen, etc) can be absorbed through the skin although the primary method has always been intended to be inhalation. Note that basic clothing will provide some level of protection against hydrogen cyanide although an NBC suit is to be preferred. Also note that if all you have is basic clothing and you are exposed to hydrogen cyanide (or other blood agents), you must carefully strip off your clothing and dispose of it as soon as you can safely do so. You must also be aware that exposure can occur via the eyes of other mucous membranes. If you are decontaminating after exposure to a blood agent and you fail to decontaminate properly, and then rub contaminated hands or fabric over your eyes, you may very well have just exposed yourself via your mucous membranes.
Basic clothing will probably buy you a few moments to get out of an area although you want to make sure as little skin as possible is exposed (blood agents aren’t as nasty as blister agents in getting through clothing – so additional layers may be worth the effort here), and you’re also going to have to accept that you’re going to need to strip down and dispose of your clothing in a very timely fashion. You’re also probably going to have to part with your footwear unless your footwear was covered by chemical covers or you are able to properly decontaminate your footwear. As an aside, I wouldn’t ever wear any previously contaminated clothing and I would only wear the footwear if I had no alternative and had thoroughly decontaminated the boots in question.
As an additional note, realize that hydrogen cyanide is lighter than air; it will naturally rise to higher locations.
Author’s opinion – Likely to be encountered in war, very likely to be encountered via terrorism since blood agents are easy to synthesize, less likely to be encountered via industrial accidents (depends on how bad infrastructure decays). Due to the doctrines of several major militaries, hydrogen cyanide (and other blood agents) will likely be very freely used in any conventional war fought in North America (more on this later).
These agents basically kill by interfering with an enzyme known as Acetylcholinesterase that allows the body’s nerve system to send out the right messages/impulses in a timely fashion so your muscles relax. With a nerve agent binding to the site of the enzyme and crowding out the proper enzyme so it cannot bind to the site, your nervous system is unable to send the proper messages to make your muscles relax. The end result is that your muscles continually contract, to the point where you die.
Nerve agents include (but are not limited to) to so-called G agents (so named because they were originally designed/developed by the Germans) primarily Tabun, Sarin, and Soman.
Nerve agents have been known to be able to contaminate vegetation, water, and even become absorbed into vegetation. Extreme care should be taken when entering any area that may have been exposed to nerve agents.
Possible indicators of exposure to nerve agents- Runny nose (without congestion and without sore throat), tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, stomach cramps, loss of control of bowel functions (i.e. defecating in your pants), loss of bladder control (i.e. urinating in your pants), profuse sweating, muscle weakness, muscle cramps, tremors, any uncontrollable muscle twitching/spasms, etc.
Nerve agents can range from the VERY persistent VX agent (which can linger on the ground, on surfaces, in puddles of water) for literally MONTHS, to the much less persistent Sarin, which may only persist few several hours (outdoors) and even less on a warm sunny day (according to Ledgard). Additionally, as Ledgard points out in his book A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents, 4 MILLIGRAMS of Sarin can kill five soldiers and it can kill them within minutes of being disseminated. Soldiers exposed to non-lethal amounts of sarin will become incapacitated within 10 minutes of exposure and will be unable to perform their normal duties as soldiers. Anybody exposed to a lethal dose will be dead within 10 to 60 minutes.
Readers should note that Sarin is far less toxic than VX, the only good thing about Sarin (if you could even call it good) is that it tends not to be persistent (except in confined areas such as bunkers, buildings, trenches, etc). Also note that Sarin is heavier than air and will be particularly deadly/persistent in enclosed areas, especially if they are low lying areas. VX vapor is also heavier than air and as an agent, VX is particularly likely to be encountered in liquid form (i.e. a shell loaded with VX liquid being burst over the top of a trench or a fixed position).
In all cases exposure to a lethal dose is fatal. However, according to Jared Ledgard in A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents some people have a natural immunity to low and/or chronic doses. Furthermore, it seems that his view of Gulf War Syndrome is similar to my view. It is my belief that Gulf War Syndrome is the result of exposure to of nerve agents (possibly soman) at levels that were not sufficient to kill or immediately incapacitate and were possibly even too low to be immediately/readily detectible. It is probable that soldiers away from immediate combat areas were not suited up or they were allowed to remove their suits after the Republican Guard was smashed and the ground campaign to liberate Kuwait was over, meaning they would have had the opportunity to be exposed to low levels of nerve agents from Iraqi chemical depots that were being destroyed or had just been destroyed. Exposure to even low levels of nerve agents, levels below that at which you become an immediate chemical casualty, can cause long-term problems (and there are documented cases of low level exposure to nerve agents causing a decades worth of health problems).
It is worth noting that there is a window of treatment for exposure to nerve agents, approximately 5-15 minutes long, although knowing about the antidote (atropine/pralidoxime- along with diazepam/valium to mitigate the convulsions) is almost a moot point since the military is not fond of handing out their atropine/pralidoxime combopens. And even so, some nerve agents (such as Soman) are not impacted by oxime, not to mention that you would have to be absolutely sure that you or the person you are injecting with the combopen has been exposed to a nerve agent or else you’re essentially poisoning them with atropine.
I have some advice for nerve agents, avoid them at all costs. If you’re a trained EMT, paramedic, Navy corpsman, Army medic, RN, physician’s assistant, a physician, or even perhaps a chemical engineer, and you know what you’re doing and can legally obtain atropine, then it might be worth considering obtaining the items. However, if you’re just a regular guy or gal reading this to learn about gas masks and some basic defense ideas, please resist the urge to rush out and try to obtain an atropine-oxime combopen from one of your military buddies. If you’re really concerned about nerve agents and you’re not going to stop preparing until you have a few combopens, then please get some serious education and training. (You might be able to get such training via the Red Cross or via a State Defense Force/State Guard depending on the state you live in and whether or not your state governor maintains a State Defense Force).
If you are going to be exposed to a nerve agent you must note that a mere gas mask alone will not provide proper protection. You will ideally want to have a self-contained breathing apparatus (NBC rated and protected from direct exposure to NBC agents) in addition to a full NBC suit, NBC hood, gloves, boot covers, etc), failing that you will want a full NBC suit (gloves, hood, boot covers, etc) with a gas mask and filter specifically rated for nerve agents. If all you have is a gas mask it is better than nothing but be aware, be very aware, of the simple fact that nerve agents do not have to be inhaled to cause death, indeed in many instances they operate more rapidly/effectively if absorbed through the skin.
Author’s opinion– In a war situation VX is most likely to be encountered in an “area denial” role since it will contaminate an area for weeks/months at a time, causing enemy personnel to generally avoid the area, funneling them through other areas. In the tactical/operational role it is most likely that Soman and/or Sarin will be encountered. The production of nerve agents requires complex laboratory equipment, reasonably skilled/educated personnel, reasonably controlled/regulated precursors, and as such they are not likely to be encountered outside of a war/military setting. Not to mention that any storage/delivery system worth its salt (i.e. an artillery shell or an aircraft bomb with a binary storage/delivery mechanism) wouldn’t be particularly easy for any idiot to whip up in their basement. Granted that the cult in Japan launched a Sarin attack on the subway but their Sarin was low quality, if they had been using military grade Sarin of a higher purity, and/or if they had a better delivery system, the resulting death toll may have been dozens of times higher.
These agents incapacitate/kill by interfering with the exposed person’s ability to breathe. They are not to be confused with riot-control agents that cause discomfort. Rather choking agents cause a build-up of fluids in the lungs which ultimately leads to death by suffocation. The two most common are chlorine and phosgene.
At this time I should mention that my father was exposed to phosgene in an accident at a chemical factory (specifically, he was sprayed in the face by a stream of phosgene) and was incapacitated for several weeks. Generally speaking there is no treatment for phosgene exposure other than to keep the exposed person calm and let them rest, aside from administering oxygen to reduce the impact of pulmonary edema, although virtually all those exposed to a lethal dose will be dead within 48 hours. It is not for nothing that phosgene accounted for almost 80% of all of the chemical/gas fatalities in the First World War.
Fortunately most choking agents, such as phosgene, have fallen out of favor in most major militaries; unfortunately it is because they have been replaced with things that are arguably at least twenty times worse. Phosgene is virtually impossible to detect by smell, no test strips are available to detect it, and generally you have to wait for people to exhibit signs of exposure to know that you are in an area rich with phosgene. Immediately after the gas is inhaled there should be coughing, choking, feelings of tightness in the chest, nausea, and vomiting. However, it remains possible that phosgene may be encountered in some capacity because it is very easy to produce. Although it should be considered that any hostile nation capable of putting an army in North America is going to be capable of supplying them with better chemical agents than phosgene.
The other main choking agent is chlorine, which could easily be encountered in an industrial accident and indeed it was encountered when a train derailed in Graniteville South Carolina (in 2005) and released 60 tons of the gas.
Chlorine gas is unlikely to be encountered in a war although it is certainly possible that an air or artillery strike may damage/destroy an industrial facility where chlorine is stored, causing its release. Fortunately a simple gas mask (no need for an NBC suit) will protect against chlorine gas. Also it is worth noting that chlorine (like phosgene) is heavier than air (get to high ground if trying to avoid chlorine or phosgene).
Your basic quality gas mask will provide protection against phosgene and chlorine, there is no need to don your full NBC suit.
Author’s opinion – You are unlikely to encounter a choking agent in a war situation, you may encounter them in a terrorist situation because it would be relatively easy for terrorists to cause a spill/leak at an industrial facility. Likewise the potential exists for a genuine accidental leak/spill or a transportation accident resulting in a release of a choking agent. If you keep your gas mask ready at hand in your vehicle you should have adequate protection against the possibility of an industrial/transportation accident involving a choking agent.
These agents are primarily used to incapacitate/maim/disfigure although they can kill. They primarily are intended to incapacitate and cause casualties, in addition to having a very nasty impact on morale due to the manner in which they cause casualties. The exposed soldier seldom dies (although death can occur from exposure under certain circumstances).
Blister agents are typically very persistent especially in dry/cold areas. They are known to be able to penetrate standard clothing, rubber, vegetation, some plastics, and even some NBC suits (standard US NBC suits generally do not prevent all blister agent penetration, allowing some penetration, with the result being some degree of blistering or worse). The only solution to that problem is to regularly change your NBC suit or utilize a special full body polymer suit (although this will destroy your combat effectiveness).
Blister agents are horrible and viciously disfiguring to any exposed to them. Fortunately they are about a century old and are mostly obsolete, aside from the fact that they are very useful as an area denial weapon since they have such a high level of persistence. According to Jared Ledgard, during the First World War a British soldier sat down on a patch of grass that unbeknownst to him contained several droplets of mustard gas and within hours he had severe blister burns on his buttocks and back.
Blister agents primarily burn the skin and cause damage to the mucous membranes (eyes, lips, mouth, ears, nose, rectum, genitals, etc). Yes blister agents can cause chemical burns on the genitals, not a pleasant prospect.
There have been accounts of blister agent chemical munitions (i.e. artillery shells) that were dumped into the ocean following the end of the First World War causing blister burns on people who discovered the shells throughout the 1990s-2000s.
Blister agents have no real cure, antidote, or treatment (other than the potential for skin grafts to deal with the skin ruined by blister burns), and that is part of what makes them truly terrible weapons. Fortunately blister agents are easily detectible by commonly available military indicator paper (check the surplus market or check survivalist circles) although if exposed symptoms of exposure may take 2-6 hours to manifest themselves in the case of the mustard gases while exposure to Lewisite will result in symptoms manifesting themselves almost immediately.
There is some good news as far as blister agents are concerned. Specifically, I am of the opinion that blister agents are unlikely to be encountered outside of trench warfare. Unless the USA is invaded and it bogs down into trench warfare, you as an American/Canadian survivalist are unlikely to encounter blister agents. The critics of the M40 field protective mask who suggested it may have a weakness for blister agents are forgetting a few things, one of those things being that trench warfare is pretty much a thing of the past. If you’re being hit with a blister agent it is probably because you’re in a trench/static position which begs the question, “why are you in a static position?” Blister agents just aren’t that useful at this day in age, although they would make a very effective psychological weapon for a defending force to use against an attacking force, causing soldiers to worry not about a quick and painless death but rather a horrible and painful disfigurement.
Also, please note- sulfur mustard vapor, nitrogen mustard vapor, and Lewisite vapor are all heavier than air, they will naturally settle in low areas.
Author’s opinion – You’re much more likely to encounter nerve agents and blood agents (in a war/invasion context) and choking agents (in an accident/terrorism context) than you are to encounter blister agents in any context. That said, if for some reason you come across artillery shells that look like they were produced when Woodrow Wilson was halfway through his second-term, don’t go near them!
These agents are primarily used for crowd/riot control or for “civilian law enforcement” purposes, -please excuse my use of the term “civilian law enforcement” I probably should have said “citizen peace officer operations” but our society is a far-cry from the days of Sheriff Andy Taylor, so I picked a term I felt more fitting. Anyway, I’m not here to preach about political issues…
Your basic irritant/disabling are not designed to kill you but they can kill you if they displace a sufficient amount of oxygen, leaving you an insufficient amount of oxygen to breathe. Your gas mask will protect you against the harmful effects of all known irritant/disabling gases, such as CS tear gas and CR gas. However, you still need to have oxygen to breathe because your mask operates as a filter, filtering out the gas, it doesn’t produce oxygen for you.
You don’t need an NBC suit to obtain protection from irritant/disabling agents, all you need is a quality gas mask (indeed you could probably get by with a 1960s or 1970s gas mask but why chance it, get a quality gas mask and you’re set for irritating agents and other agents).
Expect to encounter irritant agents from any variety of sources. In a post collapse situation you might find a number of individuals who were previously on some SWAT team have suddenly realized that they don’t have any stocks of food, medicine, water, etc, but they have some rather neat weapons, close quarters combat training, and a lot of tear gas that was previously stored in their station. They might decide to try to smoke people out of their home with CS gas, shooting them as they exit. Likewise any random thug might get the idea to do such a thing.
It is possible, but unlikely, that you will encounter CR gas, CR being a riot control agent that was used mainly in South Africa in the 1980s to put down the uprisings in the townships and homelands. Strictly speaking CR is non-lethal but it is recognized as toxic and since it is approximately 10 times more powerful than CS tear gas it is capable of causing instant incapacitation. In poorly ventilated areas (i.e. confined spaces- think indoors/basements/bunkers/etc) death may result in several minutes due to suffocation and pulmonary edema. The most common and immediate affects of CR gas exposure will be blindness (temporary), coughing, struggling/gasping for breath, and tremendous panic. If exposed to the agent you should remain calm and begin your chemical reaction drill (to be covered shortly). If you panic and begin inhaling large amounts of CR gas, expect it to induce further panicking and expect it to possibly/probably incapacitate you.
Patriots can use disabling/irritant agents to their advantage in numerous situations. It is possible that CS tear gas canisters can be rigged with trip wires to cover certain areas of approach, so the good guys can focus their initial fire on attackers coming from one main area and cover it accordingly. Likewise, if you arrive at a bug-out location and find that squatters have taken up residence, you might consider using CS tear gas to flush them out (as much as I’m a fan of dynamic entry and room to room fighting, I recognize that such tactics usually pose a major risk of suffering casualties, and the local hospital may be a charred ruin at this point). Once you flush them out you can either negotiate with them or deal with them as you see fit. That said, if you deploy CS gas canisters into your bug out location and flush out a nun and six orphans from the county orphanage, you might want to think about helping them because A- it’s the Christian thing to do and B- you can probably trust them not to try to cut your throat in your sleep. If you deploy CS gas and a half-dozen outlaw bikers come running out, you might want to think about neutralizing them as they’re exiting your structure, because trusting publicly declared criminals would be the height of folly.
I’d also like to point out that in many states (check your state/local laws) it is legal for law-abiding citizens to purchase and possess CS tear gas. Indeed, in accordance with the laws of my state, I lawfully possess multiple canisters of CS tear gas. I have also tested several of canisters and was sufficiently impressed with the results. Patriots would do well to buy three or four “clear out” CS gas canisters from KeepShooting.com as they are readily available and only about $16 dollars per canister. Note that while the canisters have “best by” dates printed on them, I used a canister that was 2.5 years expired and it was sufficient to cause myself a rather nasty experience. For safety purposes I conducted my test with others nearby ready to intervene if necessary, fortunately they did not have to intervene. I don’t recommend testing CS tear gas on yourself but he also doesn’t recommend against it. As a free man (or woman) in a free land (well to be correct — a previously free land — but I’m not here to preach about that) you are free to decide whether or not you test CS tear gas on yourself. However, if you’re going to do it, please make sure you won’t be violating any state or local laws governing the release of such gases, and above all make sure you can do the test safely. I had my mask with me (I was wearing my mask before I removed it and exposed myself to the gas) and I also had other people nearby ready to intervene if I needed them. After I removed my mask and exposed myself to the CS I had the option of being able to put my mask back on, clear my mask, and resume using my mask, leaving the area, or having my friends intervene to help me. If you want to see the impact CS tear gas can have then feel free to test it as long as you do so legally and safely.
Author’s opinion– You are likely to encounter disabling/irritant agents in the context of high-style home-invaders/attackers who were formerly members of police tactical units or who happened to be in the right place at the right time to loot police armories of their stockpiles of disabling/irritant agents (especially CS tear gas). You are likely to encounter CS tear gas from a variety of private citizens (but as long as you’re not trying to invade a man’s ranch you’re unlikely to be tear gassed by him or his family members). However, you are not likely to experience a disabling/irritant attack by terrorists (except terrorists of the “specialist/one-issue” variety, such as earth-first types, who may deploy such agents at select facilities to try to bring the facility to a standstill and gain attention for their cause. The Islamic Jihadist types are unlikely to use disabling/irritating agents as such agents do not produce the desired results, they don’t bring the dread that blister agents bring due to the prospect of maiming/disfiguring, they don’t bring the death toll that blood/nerve agents bring, all they do is cause people to feel compelled to remove themselves from the impacted area. Likewise industrial accidents are probably unlikely as CS tear gas is not something that is made at your local chemical plant, as it is a specialty item that is likely manufactured at a small number of centrally located plants.
As a final note, I would like to take the time to repeat one very important thing, disabling/irritant agents can kill you if they displace enough oxygen in the enclosed area where you happen to be located. In such a situation you would die from suffocation due to a lack of oxygen in the air. That said, in regards to most disabling agents, there properties are such that they are not designed to kill through direct exposure (only through displacing air/suffocation). That doesn’t rule out the possibility of somebody who is already weak due to illness or advanced age, becoming even weaker due to CS tear gas exposure and succumbing to their illness from it (in other words, if you have pneumonia or any sort of lung ailment, avoid exposure to disabling/irritant agents).
A quality gas mask is sufficient to protect you from most threats posed by BLOOD agents, CHOKING agents, and IRRITANT/DISABLING agents. Note that some blood agents can cause exposure via the skin, basic clothing will help mitigate the risks but a quality NBC suit (with gloves, hood, boot covers) is the best way to go.
An gas mask, in conjunction with full NBC gear is required for basic protection against NERVE agents and BLISTER agents. When I say basic I mean just that, basic, because optimal protection would be provided by either an NBC rated self-contained breathing apparatus or a military vehicle’s positive overpressure-based filtration system. Let me put it this way, as cramped and uncomfortable as the Soviet/Russian BMP-2 is supposed to be, I’d much prefer to be inside a BMP-2 during a nerve gas attack as opposed to walking around outside and having to rely on my gas mask and NBC suit.
At any rate, make sure you know what your filter is rated to do and how long it is rated to last with a given agent. Be prepared to have to change your filter and/or NBC suit at least once if you plan on lingering in a chemically rich area for half a day or longer, depending on the agent/s the area is contaminated with. If you’re anticipating having to do such things, make sure you know how to properly change a filter in a chemically contaminated environment and make sure you have provisions made for being able to safely change your NBC suit (nothing would be worse than stripping off your NBC suit in an environment rich with something such as nitrogen mustard or VX).
I should also take this opportunity to mention that if you have a charcoal based filter it will typically be neutralized by normal environmental conditions in about one week’s time, even without exposure to any chemical agents, just due to the impact a normal environment has on charcoal. Once you open your sealed charcoal based NBC suit, you have one week to use it before it is neutralized regardless of whether or not it is exposed to a chemical agent. Also recall as I stated earlier, some agents are not resisted very well or at all by charcoal based devices.
Now that you have some basic background information about the categories of agents and signs of exposure, how can you recognize a chemical attack and what should you do if you recognize or suspect a chemical attack is underway or you are entering a chemically rich area?
First of all you have what is called your chemical/gas reaction drill… If you or anybody in your team suspects or recognizes a chemical/gas situation, at any time, you or anybody in your team should by all means call it out. You will loudly shout, GAS! GAS! GAS! (yes- shout it three times), after that you will immediately close your eyes and stop breathing. You will then don your gas mask (with your unsealed, open, and ready to use filter already screwed in place on it), make sure it is on tight, and then exhale hard once or twice to clear it of any possible particles, then you breathe normally.
But how will you know when to call out a gas situation? There are many different ways in which a gas situation may be recognized…
Some agents have distinct odors (it would be too time consuming for me to discuss every possible odor of every possible agent, not to mention you would probably forget them, if you want to learn more about the particular smells of particular agents then please purchase a copy of Jared Ledgard’s book A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents in which he gives a detailed analysis of all of the main chemical warfare agents, even touching on the colors, odors, etc, of those that have colors and/or odors). As far as odors are concerned, a general rule is this, “if you smell something you probably shouldn’t smell, you’re in trouble.” If you’re in the field tending to chickens and all of the sudden a fighter-bomber zips by overhead and moments later you’re smelling bitter almonds, you need to call out GAS, GAS, GAS, go into your drill, and get out of the area because you’re probably in trouble (bitter almonds is usually indicative of a cyanide agent, especially hydrogen cyanide). I decided to mention that specific smell because hydrogen cyanide is an agent that I expect is very likely to be encountered in any war/invasion scenario. However for every agent that has an easily discernable/distinct odor it seems there is another agent that is odorless…
Some agents have distinct colors although just as many agents are colorless. A good general rule for determining a chemical attack via the color or lack of color of an agent could be as follows… If any sort of attack aircraft flies overhead and sprays any colored liquid, assume it is a chemical attack and react accordingly. If an aircraft drops a bomb and it explodes in the air and you see liquid it is almost certainly a chemical attack. If the aircraft drops a bomb and there either is no explosion or a very subdued explosion, with nothing present after (i.e. no liquid can be seen) it is almost certainly a chemical attack in the form of a colorless vapor or a colorless liquid. When an aircraft is using a bomb you should see some sort of conventional explosion, or the warhead should be splitting open and releasing cluster/sub-munitions, it shouldn’t be a subdued and barely evident conventional explosion, if it is then it is indicative that the warhead was probably a chemical warhead and the shell had limited conventional explosive power.
If a shell or warhead bursts over your area and you see a less than spectacular explosion, nobody was impacted by fragments or any sort of cluster/sub-munitions, then you must assume it was a chemical attack and immediately go into your chemical reaction drill.
If you ever encounter animals, such as chickens, cows, horses, deer, cats, dogs, birds, etc, that are dead with no signs of external trauma (i.e. no gunshot wounds) then you should assume they were killed by chemical (or biological) agents and immediately go into your reaction drill. If you are part of a group of six individuals moving through a field an area and you come towards a clearing where you can see a half-dozen dead deer and a few dead song-birds, you should immediately call out, “GAS! GAS! GAS!” and go into the rest of your reaction drill. Then you should get away from that area.
The same goes for encounters with human bodies that show no signs of external trauma. The immediate assumption should be that they were killed by chemical or biological agents.
It is also possible to obtain detection strips that are specific to certain agents and will change colors when exposed to certain agents. However, it is worth noting that some agents (i.e. Phosgene) are not capable of detection via detection papers. It is also possible to use electronic equipment to detect gas.
Why are chemical agents something to worry about? Would anybody dare use them in modern war? Well they’re something to worry about because some of them are so deadly that an amount that can fit on the tip of a pin can kill you in a minute if it is placed on your skin. As to the question of whether or not anybody would dare to use them in a modern war, consider what happened in the Iran-Iraq war, although arguably that had a lot to do with the fact that the war bogged down into trench warfare. However, that isn’t to say that a frustrated counter-insurgency force won’t resort to using chemical weapons, as the Soviets allegedly did in Afghanistan in the mid-late 1980s.
Standard Soviet doctrine allowed for and encouraged the liberal use of fast-acting and non-persistent agents, such as Hydrogen cyanide. The benefit to hydrogen cyanide is that it is neutralized within 1-2 minutes in normal weather conditions, so if an attacking force bombards the enemy with hydrogen cyanide just before the attack begins, they force the defenders to mask up and fight in masks (diminishing their morale and combat effectiveness) while the attackers typically won’t have to mask up and can arrive unhindered by masks/NBC gear, taking the fight to the enemy, within just a few minutes after the end of the bombardment.
The idea was that hydrogen cyanide would be used against targets situated along the Soviet axis of advance, while persistent agents (such as blister agents and in some cases nerve agents) would be used against installations/facilities key to NATO conducting a proper defense, but that whose seizure was not key to the Soviet advance. Supposedly the Soviet Union has dissolved and collapsed but the utility of hydrogen cyanide has not diminished. For an army looking to pepper the enemy with an agent that is very lethal but very quick to be neutralized by normal weather conditions, they need look no further than hydrogen cyanide. It would cost an army virtually nothing to use hydrogen cyanide as the threat to their own personnel is virtually non-existent, the cost of the agent itself is ridiculously low, and it is easy to deliver in a fashion (i.e. artillery) that doesn’t expose friendly personnel to excessive risks (as might be the case with planes using spray tanks).
Blood agents are very effective for tactical use to help clear the way for a rapidly advancing army, while nerve agents are effective for hitting areas that the army is not advancing through and is mainly concerned with denying the use of such areas to the enemy. In that sense, both blood and nerve agents are likely to be encountered in an war/invasion situation.
You mat ask yourself why I have devoted very little to discussing decontamination procedures. The answer is very simple and I hope the reader will try to understand my reasoning. The decontamination procedures can vary widely depending on the agent and the type of exposure/contamination. The decontamination procedures for the various agents are different, although there will always be some similarities… The main similarities being that you need to get out of the contaminated area, get out of your contaminated clothing/NBC suit (when you can safely do so- and without exposing yourself to any contaminants that may be on the outside of your NBC suit), change your gas mask filter, and probably decontaminate the outside of your gas mask. Don’t forget to use decontamination wipes on any/all contaminated equipment (rifle, scope, magazines, etc).
As for the specific procedures for the specific agents, if you want to find an exhaustive list of what the procedures are, I strongly suggest that you obtain a copy of Jared Ledgard’s book, A Laboratory History of Chemical Warfare Agents. I know I have repeatedly referenced that book throughout this article but it is a very handy book to have if you want to learn more about chemical agents. He gives a detailed analysis of each agent, signs of exposure, possible treatments, the chemical properties, etc. Although this author has one request to make since Ledgard also gives a step by step process for how to prepare every chemical agent he discusses. My request is to heed Ledgard’s advice and my advice and refrain from attempting to produce any of the agents covered in his book.
It is my sincere hope that you have been able to take away something worthwhile and useful from this article and that you will take the threat posed by chemical agents seriously. My main regret is that I am unable to discuss the specific threats of specific biological agents and radiological hazards because his area of interest has tended more towards chemistry/chemicals instead of biology or other areas. At some point in the future the author may give a review of the M50 joint service general purpose mask (military or commercial version) depending on whether or not he is able to obtain one.