How Blister Agents Changed Our Equipment
We, as CBRN soldiers, can trace our corps roots back to World War I, where chemical agents were widely used by both the allied and German forces. One chemical used was called mustard gas (H). Mustard gas is a type of blister agent that causes large blister (vesicles) on the skin, lungs and eyes of those exposed to it. According to Heller (1984), when mustard gas was introduced on the battlefield soldiers were unaware that they were even exposed. Unlike other chemicals used at that time (Chlorine or Phosgene) the effects of mustard gas were not readily apparent. According to Namazi, Niknahad, & Razmkhah (2009), those exposed did not feel the effects for 4-8 hours after exposure causing severe injuries. According to Heller (1984), the Germans were the first to use mustard gas in 1917 on British soldiers. When the British soldiers observed the gas shells going off they did not see or smell any gas; therefore, believed that the Germans were trying to trick them. It was not until several hours later did they start complaining that their eyes, throats and lungs hurt. By the time that the United States entered World War I we did not have any protection against the chemicals that were being used on the front lines. According to Heller (1984), “On 6 April 1917, when the U.S. declared war on Germany, the army not only lacked defensive equipment for chemical warfare, but also had no concrete plans to develop or manufacture gas masks or any other defensive equipment” ( pg.38). While the history of our corps is very interesting, I will show the effects mustard gas has on unprotected soldiers and how the first protective equipment has changed to what we are equipped with today.
First I will discuss the effects of the blister agent, mustard gas and how it behaves. Keep in mind that during the time when the Chemical Warfare Services were started soldiers did not have the equipment we have today. Mustard gas is a persistent agent that is actually a liquid, and is only a vapor under the right conditions. It affects the body’s skin, eyes, and lungs by creating vesicles or blisters. Depending on the level of exposure it can cause death, but this is usually due to inhalation of the agent. Mustard is oily; yellowish in color and under the right atmospheric conditions can stay in an area for several days or weeks. Symptoms do not usually present themselves for 4-8 hours after exposure unless the eyes are directly exposed to the liquid, according to Namazi et al., (2009). If the eyes are exposed to the liquid agent, they become irritated at first. After the 4-8 hours is when the blisters will start to form on the exposed skin and eyes. According to Namazi et al., (2009) decontamination must take place within 3 -10 minutes after exposure to minimize the effects of the agent. However, if you are not aware that you have been exposed you will become a casualty.
During WWI the British and French soldiers were...