Welcome to the Volusia County
Health Department EH Mobile Site

| Home | Offices | CBTs |
| Public Health |
| EH Preparedness |

Chemical Agents

click on each agent to read about it

Carbon Monoxide

Chlorine

Cyanide

Sulfur Mustard (mustard gas)

Sarin

VX

What is Carbon Monoxide? Carbon monoxide(CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death if inhaled.

What are the symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning? Exposure to CO can cause loss of consciousness and death. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.

Back to the top

What is chlorine? Chlorine is an element used in industry and found in some household products. Chlorine is sometimes in the form of a poisonous gas. Chlorine gas can be pressurized and cooled to change it into a liquid so that it can be shipped and stored. When liquid chlorine is released, it quickly turns into a gas that stays close to the ground and spreads rapidly.

Chlorine gas can be recognized by its pungent, irritating odor, which is like the odor of bleach. The strong smell may provide an adequate warning to people that they have been exposed. Chlorine gas appears to be yellow-green in color. Chlorine itself is not flammable, but it can react explosively or form explosive compounds with other chemicals such as turpentine and ammonia.

What are the signs and symptoms of chlorine exposure? During or immediately after exposure to dangerous concentrations of chlorine, the following signs and symptoms may develop:

  • Coughing
  • Chest tightness
  • Burning sensation in the nose, throat, and eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Burning pain, redness and blisters on the skin
  • if exposed to gas, skin injury similar to frostbite
  • if exposed to liquid chlorine difficulty breathing or shortness of breath (may appear immediately if high concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled, or may be delayed if low concentrations of chlorine gas are inhaled) Fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) within 2 to 4 hours

Showing these signs or symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to chlorine.

Back to the top

What is cyanide? Cyanide is a rapidly acting, potentially deadly chemical that can exist in various forms. Cyanide can be a colorless gas, such as hydrogen cyanide (HCN) or cyanogen chloride (CNCl), or a crystal form such as sodium cyanide (NaCN) or potassium cyanide (KCN). Cyanide sometimes is described as having a “bitter almond” smell, but it does not always give off an odor, and not everyone can detect this odor.

What are the signs and symptoms of exposure to cyanide? People exposed to a small amount of cyanide by breathing it, absorbing it through their skin, or eating foods that contain it may have some or all of the following symptoms within minutes:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Restlessness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate

Exposure to a large amount of cyanide by any route may cause these other health effects as well:

  • Convulsions
  • Low blood pressure
  • Slow heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Lung injury
  • Respiratory failure leading to death

Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to cyanide.

Back to the top

What is sulfur mustard?(mustard gas) Sulfur mustard is a type of chemical warfare agent. These kinds of agents are called vesicants or blistering agents, because they cause blistering of the skin and mucous membranes on contact. Sulfur mustard is also known as “mustard gas or mustard agent, or by the military designations H, HD, and HT. Sulfur mustard sometimes smells like garlic, onions, or mustard and sometimes has no odor. It can be a vapor (the gaseous form of a liquid), an oily-textured liquid, or a solid.

What are the signs and symptoms of sulfur mustard exposure? Exposure to sulfur mustard is usually not fatal. When sulfur mustard was used during World War I, it killed fewer than 5% of the people who were exposed and got medical care. People may not know right away that they have been exposed, because sulfur mustard often has no smell or has a smell that might not cause alarm. Typically, signs and symptoms do not occur immediately. Depending on the severity of the exposure, symptoms may not occur for 2 to 24 hours. Some people are more sensitive to sulfur mustard than are other people, and may have symptoms sooner. Sulfur mustard can have the following effects on specific parts of the body:

  • Skin: redness and itching of the skin may occur 2 to 48 hours after exposure and change eventually to yellow blistering of the skin.
  • Eyes: irritation, pain, swelling, and tearing may occur within 3 to 12 hours of a mild to moderate exposure. A severe exposure may cause symptoms within 1 to 2 hours and may include the symptoms of a mild or moderate exposure plus light sensitivity, severe pain, or blindness (lasting up to 10 days).
  • Respiratory tract: runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, bloody nose, sinus pain, shortness of breath, and cough within 12 to 24 hours of a mild exposure and within 2 to 4 hours of a severe exposure.
  • Digestive tract: abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to sulfur mustard.

Back to the top

What is sarin? Sarin is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. They are similar to certain kinds of pesticides (insect killers) called organophosphates in terms of how they work and what kind of harmful effects they cause. However, nerve agents are much more potent than organophosphate pesticides.

Sarin originally was developed in 1938 in Germany as a pesticide. Sarin is a clear, colorless, and tasteless liquid that has no odor in its pure form. However, sarin can evaporate into a vapor (gas) and spread into the environment.

What are the signs and symptoms of sarin exposure? People may not know that they were exposed because sarin has no odor. People exposed to a low or moderate dose of sarin by breathing contaminated air, eating contaminated food, drinking contaminated water, or touching contaminated surfaces may experience some or all of the following symptoms within seconds to hours of exposure:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooling and excessive sweating
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased urination
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or abdominal pain
  • Slow or fast heart rate
  • Low or high blood pressure

Even a small drop of sarin on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching where sarin touched the skin. Exposure to large doses of sarin by any route may result in the following harmful health effects:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory failure possibly leading to death

Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to sarin.

Back to the top

What is VX? VX is a human-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. They are similar to pesticides (insect killers) called organophosphates in terms of how they work and what kinds of harmful effects they cause. However, nerve agents are much more potent than organophosphate pesticides. VX was originally developed in the United Kingdom in the early 1950s. VX is odorless and tasteless. VX is an oily liquid that is amber in color and very slow to evaporate. It evaporates about as slowly as motor oil.

What are the signs and symptoms of VX exposure? People may not know they were exposed to VX because it has no odor. People exposed to a low or moderate dose of VX by inhalation, ingestion (swallowing), or skin absorption may experience some or all of the following symptoms within seconds to hours of exposure:

  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Small, pinpoint pupils
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooling and excessive sweating
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased urination
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting and/or abdominal pain
  • Slow or fast heart rate
  • Abnormally low or high blood pressure

Even a tiny drop of nerve agent on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching where the agent touched the skin. Exposure to a large dose of VX by any route may result in these additional health effects:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory failure possibly leading to death

Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to VX.

Back to the top

This is a scaled down version
of our main environmental health site. For more detailed information please visit our main site at http://www.doh.state.fl.us/chd/volusia/EH/index.html