There are four ma­jor cat­e­gories of chem­i­cal weapon, each tar­get­ing a vi­tal bod­ily func­tion.

Popular Science - - WEAPONS DETECTIVES - by char­lie wood and jil­lian mock


Gases made from chlo­rine, sul­fur, or ar­senic burn any body part they touch. Used on the bat­tle­field in World War I, their mol­e­cules bind to DNA in­side cells, in­clud­ing the mu­cous mem­brane of the throat and lungs, lead­ing to fluid buildup and deadly in­fec­tion.


Peo­ple need oxy­gen, and these cyanide-based agents halt the body’s abil­ity to use it. These com­pounds are mi­to­chon­drial poi­sons. They stop cells from pass­ing elec­trons to oxy­gen dur­ing cel­lu­lar res­pi­ra­tion. Victims die with brightred blood in their veins.


When in­haled, gases such as phos­gene dis­rupt breath­ing by ir­ri­tat­ing and cor­rod­ing the mu­cous tis­sues that line the nose, throat, and lungs. Denser than air, a phos­gene cloud stays low, where it kills those un­lucky enough to learn what it smells like: freshly cut hay.


Agents such as sarin tar­get the ner­vous sys­tem. They al­low the neu­ro­trans­mit­ter acetyl­choline to pile up, par­a­lyz­ing mus­cles, stop­ping the lungs from in­flat­ing and the heart from beat­ing. At high con­cen­tra­tions, some of them can kill in min­utes.

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