How To Survive Chemical Warfare – Part I

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Australian infantry small box respirators Ypres 1917

Although chemical weapons have actually been used since ancient times (for example the Chinese used Arsenic Smokes in around 1000 BC), the era of chemical warfare arguably began with WWI – almost exactly 100 years ago.

It is important to note that the rules of war are ultimately written by the perpetrators: Despite the fact that the Hague Declaration of 1899 and the Hague Convention of 1907 forbade the use of “poison or poisoned weapons” in warfare, more than 124,000 tons of poison gas were produced by the end of World War I. The French were the first to use chemical weapons during the First World War, using the tear gases ethyl bromoacetate and chloroacetone. This was followed rapidly by the development and use of chlorine and other gases by all sides and WWI even became known as “The Chemists’ War” as a result. [1]

A total 50,965 tons of pulmonary, lachrymatory, and vesicant agents were deployed by both sides in WWI, including chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas. Official figures declare about 1.3 million casualties directly caused by chemical warfare agents during the course of the war. Of these, an estimated 100,000-260,000 casualties were civilians. [1]

The effects of chemical agents can be persistent: They’re still clearly visible in Vietnam, 40 years after the USA sprayed the deadly Agent Orange that had such hideous effects on millions of people.

Are things really different now? It’s questionable that we are any more civilized. There are more stringent legal measures in place and great steps have been made to prevent the use of chemical agents. But since when did you ever come across a terrorist who played by the rules?

I think the risks of this happening to you are pretty small over all. So it’s best not to freak out. But also, don’t think that this is just a thing of the past. Sarin was used in an attack in the Ghouta region of the Rif Dimashq Governorate of Syria during the Syrian civil war in 2013. Varying sources gave a death toll of 322 to 1,729. [1]

It makes sense simply to learn a little about it and be prepared.

genetic defects

The first thing you need to know is how to detect a chemical attack, so you can prevent contamination or decontaminate in time.

Wilderness Survival says “the best method for detecting chemical agents is the use of a chemical agent detector. If you have one, use it. However, in a survival situation, you will most likely have to rely solely on the use of all of your physical senses. You must be alert and able to detect any clues indicating the use of chemical warfare. General indicators of the presence of chemical agents are tears, difficult breathing, choking, itching, coughing, and dizziness.”

Also, they advise us to use our sense of smell to detect chemical agents. Chlorine is obvious – it smells like bleach. Phosgene smells like freshly cut hay or grass. Mustard gas has an odor resembling mustard plants, garlic, or horseradish. However note that Sarin is odorless.

Some agents are similar to mist or have specific colors like yellow, green or even red.

Mustard gas leaves oily patches on cars and buildings and Yellow Rain is noticeable in the form of small yellow drops on the ground, on cars or trees.

young victims
photo source :

Beware of rashes, irritations and burns on the skin. If you feel like scratching parts of your skin repeatedly and the feeling does not get away, or if you see an unusual color or spots on it, wash with soap and water immediately. If the symptoms are severe, get to the nearest hospital right away.

However, some agents are very hard to detect. In this case, your smell won’t help you in any way. But you can observe your surroundings, to see if there’s something unusual going on.

We’re also still at risk of chemical agents washing ashore from 20th century dumping, a shocking practice. This really happened. For one example – after WWI, most of the unused German chemical warfare agents were dumped into the Baltic Sea, a common disposal method among all the participants in several bodies of water. Over time, the salt water causes the shell casings to corrode, and mustard gas occasionally leaks from these containers and washes onto shore as a wax-like solid resembling ambergris. [1], Nuke Prep Expertise & Solutions, makes a list of the things we should watch out for:

  • Dead animals/birds/fish:Numerous animals dead in the same area.
  • Blisters/rashes:Many individuals experiencing unexplained rashes, bee-sting like blisters, and/or watery blisters.
  • Mass casualties:Many persons exhibiting unexplained serious health problems ranging from disorientation and nausea to breathing difficulty, convulsions, and death.
  • Unusual metal debris:Unexplained munitions like material, especially if liquid is contained. (No rain recently.)
  • Unexplained chemical odors:Smells may range from fruity to flowery to pungent/sharp, to horseradish/garlic-like to peach kernels/bitter almonds to new mown hay. It should be noted, that the smell would likely be completely out of sync with its surroundings. (I.E. The smell of hay in an urban area.)
  • Low-lying clouds:Low-lying fog/cloud-like condition not explained by surroundings.
  • Definite pattern of casualties:Casualties distributed in a pattern that may be associated with possible agent dissemination methods.
  • Illness associated with a confined geographic area:Lower rates of illness for people working outdoors versus indoors or indoors versus outdoors.
  • Lack of insect life:Normal insect activity is missing. Check ground/shore line/water surface for dead insects. Also look for dead animals/birds/fish.
  • Unusual liquid droplets: Many surfaces exhibit oily droplets or film. (No rain recently.)
  • Unusual spraying:Unexplained spraying of an aerosol or liquid by vehicles, persons, or aircraft.


[1] Wikipedia – Chemical Warfare

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