– Also known as sulphur mustard
– An organic compound: (ClCH2CH2)2S
– Mustard gas is a cytotoxin
– Used in chemical warfare
– Garlic scent and yellow-brown colour
– Fatal in less than 1% cases
– Causes burns, suffocation and cancer
– Precursor to development of chemotherapy
Thought to have been developed in 1822, mustard gas (sulphur mustard) is a cytotoxin which means it’s toxic at a cellular level. While called a gas, it is actually an oily liquid which is dispersed via aerosol. It’s active ingredient is actually chlorine. It has a slight yellow-brown tint and a garlic smell. Exposure can occur via inhalation, ingestion or if it comes into contact with a person’s skin or eyes. While fatal in less than 1% of cases, exposure can result in burns and blisters to skin, eyes and lungs (plus a lot of other horrible symptoms). This can lead to suffocation, however victims usually die from secondary infections cause by burns. Victims who survive the initial exposure can later die from cancer.
Victims don’t usually show symptoms of poisoning until an average of 12 to 24 hours later. It can take a number of weeks for symptoms to recover. However, due to the severity of the exposure, some victims remain permanently disfigured and/or blind, suffer chronic respiratory disease. Pregnant women have increased risk of having a baby with birth defects or cancer.
The United Nations adopted the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993 which banned mustard gas (and other chemical agents), however mustard gas has continued to be used in conflicts since then.
Through all the horror this chemical produces, it was the trigger for the development of modern chemotherapy thanks to the discovery in WWII that navy personnel impacted to mustard gas had toxic changes in their bone marrow.
Wince WWI, mustard gas has continued to be used:
United Kingdom against the Red Army in 1919Wikipedia
Spain and France against the Rifian resistance in Morocco in 1921–27
Italy in Libya in 1930
The Soviet Union in Xinjiang, Republic of China, during the Soviet Invasion of Xinjiang against the 36th Division (National Revolutionary Army) in 1934, and also in the Xinjiang War (1937) in 1936–37
Italy against Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) from 1935 to 1940
The Japanese Empire against China in 1937–1945
The 2 December 1943 air raid on Bari destroyed an Allied stockpile of mustard gas on the SS John Harvey
Egypt against North Yemen in 1963–1967
Iraq against Kurds in the town of Halabja during the Halabja chemical attack
Iraq against Iranians in 1983–1988
Possibly in Sudan against insurgents in the civil war, in 1995 and 1997
In the Iraq War, abandoned stockpiles of mustard gas shells were destroyed in the open air, and were used against Coalition forces in roadside bombs
By ISIS forces against Kurdish forces in Iraq in August 2015
By ISIS against another rebel group in the town of Mare’ in 2015
According to Syrian State media, by ISIS against Syrian Army during the battle in Deir ez-Zor in 2016
During WWII a supply ship carrying an American load of mustard agent exploded exposing over 600 to the toxin. Of those, 83 died. After the war, the ocean near Port Elizabeth in South Africa was used as a dumping ground for stockpiled mustard agent, resulting in trawler crews sustaining burns.