Types of Chemical Weapons

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Mustard agents were first used toward the end of World War I and are among the most commonly produced chemical weapons by those nations that have had them. They cause severe eye and lung damage and are often called "blister agents" since their injuries usually resemble burns or blisters. The United States, Germany, Russia and Iraq are all said to have produced mustard agents during the 20th century. They are easy to make, and earned their name not from how they are made but from their smell, a rotten mustard or onion odor.

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VX, or O-ethyl S-diisopropylaminomethyl methylphosphonothiolate, is brownish in liquid form, and its vapors are odorless. The United States began producing VX in April 1961, but its composition was not widely known for another decade.

VX agents are among the most toxic substances known. Mere droplets can kill. It can remain on material, equipment and terrain for long periods. Uptake is mainly through the skin but also through inhalation of the substance as a gas or aerosol.

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Hydrogen cyanide is a commercially produced "blood agent" used in plastic and organic chemical products in many parts of the world. It is a colorless vapor at normal temperatures with a smell likened to bitter almonds.There is no confirmed information on this substance being used in chemical warfare. However, it has been reported that hydrogen cyanide was used by Iraq in the war against Iran and against the Kurds in northern Iraq during the 1980s. Hydrogen cyanide has high toxicity and in sufficient concentrations rapidly leads to death.

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