Facts About the Nerve Agent Tabun

ByABC News
April 7, 2003, 1:48 PM

— -- Tabun is is a man-made chemical warfare agent that is classified as a nerve agent. It is also known as GA.

What It Does

Tabun is a nerve agent that interrupts the transmission of nerve impulses in the body. Like all nerve agents, it causes toxic effects by preventing the proper operation of the chemical that acts as the body's "off switch" for glands and muscles. Without this "off switch," the glands and muscles may tire and no longer sustain breathing.

How Lethal Is It

People who are mildly or moderately exposed to tabun usually recover completely. Severely exposed people are not likely to survive.


Tabun is a colorless to brownish liquid. Under average weather conditions, it can persist for one to two days. It is primarily released as an aerosol or a vapor.

Symptoms of Exposure

Signs and symptoms of exposure include visual disturbance, runny nose, chest tightness, nausea, vomiting and convulsions. A large dose can result in loss of consciousness, convulsions, paralysis and respiratory failure, which can lead to death. Symptoms appear within a few seconds after exposure to the vapor form of tabun, and within a few minutes to up to 18 hours after exposure to the liquid form.

What It Looks Like

Tabun is a clear, colorless to brownish, tasteless liquid with a faint fruity odor.

How You Can Protect Yourself

People who think they've been exposed to tabun should remove their clothing and wash their bodies with soap and water and get medical attention as quickly as possible. The clothing should be sealed in a plastic bag, with that bag sealed in another plastic bag. If the eyes are burning, rinse them thoroughly with water for 15 to 20 minutes.

How It Can Be Used

Tabun mixes easily with water, and can be used to poison water or food. It can also be released into the air.


Tabun was invented by a German chemist, Gerhard Schrader, in the mid-1930s. Schrader worked for IG Farben, a company that later used slave labor from the Birkenau concentration camp to produce its products. One of Farben's inventions, ironically, was Zyklon-B, used by the Nazis to gas victims in those same camps. Tabun and Zyklon-B were developed as pesticides. Tabun is beleived to be among the nerve agents used in chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.