At a Glance: Chemical Weapons Organophosphate (OP) nerve agents

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OP nerve agents are related to OP pesticides, but have greater acute toxicity, especially when absorbed through the skin. The nerve damage caused by both OP nerve agents and OP pesticides is similar in quality, and in general, treatment of both types of OP poisoning are similar. For more on OP poisoning management, see Recognition and Management of Pesticide Poisonings by Donald P. Morgan MD.

There are several kinds of OP nerve agents, and they are thought to be effective against various kinds of targets. OP nerve agents are generally divided into "G" agents and "V" agents, as follows:

  • GB (sarin): The agent thought to have been released at Khamisiyah. Sarin was the agent used in the 1995 Japanese subway terrorist incident, and in another Japanese incident in 1994. Treatment for sarin poisoning is atropine, 2-PAM, and diazepam-- the contents of the US military anti nerve agent kit. PB does not offer extra protection against sarin. Sarin is thought to be most likely to be used offensively against forward positions (weapons and key defense positions), as a defensive weapon, to produce casualties, and otherwise harass and reduce enemy efficiency. Sarin is also thought to be likely to be used against civilian enemy populations. Sarin can be used to prevent enemy incursions.
  • GD (soman): The agent against which PB is thought to be an effective pretreatment. PB enhances the effectiveness of atropine and 2-PAM administered after attack by soman. PB by itself offers no protection against soman. Military uses of soman are thought to be likely offensive, against transportation centers (airfields and airports, rail junctions), troop concentrations, command centers and storage sites. Soman can be used to prevent enemy incursions.
  • GA (tabun): Thought to have been used by Iraq in the 1980s against Iranians and Kurds, in combination with sarin, VX and mustard gas. 2-PAM is not useful against tabun poisoning.
  • VX: Thought to have been used by Iraq in the 1980s against Iranians and Kurds in combination with sarin, tabun and mustard gas. Likely to be used both offensively and efensively against all targets listed above. VX, like other V agents, is less volatile than G agents.


Source: Marrs, Timothy C., Maynard, Robert L. and Sidell, Frederick R. Chemical Warfare Agents: Toxicology and Treatment. John Wiley & Sons, Ltd: Chichester UK et al. 1996, 1997.