A Guide to Nerve Agents

Nerve agents have been in the news lately, and though I hate the idea that an article like this needs to be written, but it certainly needs to be written.

The news that former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia were seemingly poisoned by a nerve agent in Salisbury, England sparked panic, hysteria, and a whole lot of uncertainty. Who would do such a thing? Why would they do such a thing? Could something like this happen again? Those questions are slowly being answered. Today, we’ll put the Salisbury incident aside and focus on the science.

By the time you click through to the final page, you’ll have a better understanding of what nerve agents are, you’ll be well versed on the various types of nerve agents, and you’ll be prepared in case you, or someone you know, are exposed. It’s certainly a tall order but remember, knowledge is power.

So, let’s explore the deadly world of deadly nerve agents and arm ourselves with the know-how to protect ourselves in times of crisis.

What Are Nerve Agents?

It’s easy to understand the dangers of nerve agents. But what are they?

A nerve agent is a highly toxic chemical that’s designed to disrupt the way in which your nerves transport information. More specifically, they disrupt your body’s ability to communicate with your organs. Nerve agents can come in a variety of different forms (powder, gas, liquid), and direct contact is often fatal.

They owe their existence to the German chemist Dr. Gerhard Schrader, who observed their toxicity in the 1930s. Schrader’s discovery would inevitably lead to the discovery of tabun and the weaponization of nerve agents for the purposes of war.

The Types of Nerve Agents

Though the means of conveyance and chemical properties may vary slightly from one compound to the next, nerve agents aim to disrupt your neurological pathways. There are three classifications of nerve agents that include V-agents, G-agents, and Novichok agents.

G-agents include tabun, sarin, soman, and cycosarin, and are widely regarded as some of the most toxic chemical warfare agents on the planet. V-agents, like the one that killed North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother in Malaysia, is an advanced variation that was discovered in the 1950s.

Novichok agents, like the one used in Salisbury, were developed exclusively by the Soviet Union and in Russia beginning in the 1960’s and continuing through to as recent as the 1990s. Novichok was designed to be undetectable and to defeat chemical-protective gear. These compounds are incredibly dangerous, roughly five-times as effective as its V-series predecessors.

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