A gas leak in Bhopal India is considered the worst industrial accident with a death toll that has never been fixed, but was definitely over 5,000. Many died because they tried to escape. Running is the WRONG thing to do.
Disasters at plants like the one in Bhopal, train derailments, tanker truck crashes and other incidents make a chemical accident a possibility anywhere. While outlawed, chemical weapons are a reality of our world. Chemical weapons can be made more easily than the other two arms of the triad of weapons of mass destruction: nuclear and biological. Thus, they are a favorite of terrorists. They have been used. They will be used again.
Chemical warfare is the use of non-living toxins to incapacitate or kill humans, plants or animals. Chemical terrorism is the same, except not state- sponsored.
As long as there has been warfare, humans have used chemical warfare in various forms. Fire, in fact, is considered chemical warfare. Poison is another mode.
Chemical Warfare was used extensively in World War I. The French were the first to employ it. It is estimated there were 1.3 million chemical weapon casualties in the war, including civilians. Like biological weapons, chemical weapons are indiscriminate in who they attack.
In World War II, the Japanese and Germans employed chemical weapons in various ways. The Allies stockpiled them for possible use in the extreme. The Japanese employed them in China. (See my slideshare on Unit 731) The Germans didn’t use them in combat, but in concentration camps for extermination and killed millions.
There are some unique properties to chemical weapons and agents. There are over 70 different types and they can come in solid, liquid or gas form. Some act not only via the lungs but through contact with the skin, such as mustard gas. Agents are divided into lethal and incapacitating. Chemical agents are also rated according to their persistency: how long they remain active after being deployed.
Non-persistent chemical agents lose their effectiveness anywhere from seconds to hours after their dispersal. Persistent chemical agents remain for days and even weeks. For most of us, the biggest problem with chemical agents is detection.
The reality is it’s very difficult to detect a chemical accident or attack. The most important sign is the event that initiates the accident or attack. A train derailment is one example. Often, chemical attacks are done via an initial explosion. It was three hours into the Tokyo Sarin attack before they even realized an agent had been used. Always assume the worst. Observing other people and animals is the last resort of detection.
Besides industrial accidents, chemical agents can be delivered by a variety of means: Air Via the water supply Via the food supply. The bottom line is a chemical agent requires direct contact.
There are four main types of chemical agents: Nerve Agents: require ingestion, respiration or contact Blood Agents: absorbed through respiration Choking Agents: absorbed through respiration Blistering Agents: burns skin and internal tissues (mouth, throat and lungs) on contact.
These agents have various effects: Nerve Agents: loss of muscle control, respiratory failure and death Blood Agents: interferes with the body’s oxygen supply, leading to death Choking Agents: death from lack of oxygen Blistering Agents: causes blisters, lung damage, long term debilitating injuries including blindness
To prepare, there are several items that are of value: A gas mask. Many chemical agents act through the respiratory system. However, most of us don’t carry a gas mask around with us. Most are not trained how to use one and gas masks require maintenance of the filters.
Another way to prepare is to be ready to seal your house, or part of your house, off from outside air. For this you will need polyethylene sheeting and tape. It’s best to find a single room, deep inside your house for this; one with no windows and the least amount of doors. Seal any vents. Remember that agents tend to settle so going higher is better.
Shut all air intakes into the house. Turn off AC/Heating. Use wet towels to seal the bottom of doors. If caught in your car, stay in the car. Keep windows closed. Turn off AC/Heating. Turn off outside air circulation. Covers air vents.
Cover yourself completely. Remember, some agents act through the skin. Long pants, long sleeve shirts, masks, hats and gloves.
A huge mistake people make when caught in a chemical accident or attack is fleeing. This killed many during the Bhopal disaster. You are better off sealing yourself inside. Running will expose you more and also cause you to ingest the agent.
A free slideshow on this topic and many others about interesting history, survival, writing and other topics is on my web site at www.bobmayer.com/workshops