Mustard gas

Mustard gas also known as sulfur mustard, mustard agent, yperita, Lost or by the military designations H, HD, and HT; It is an oily liquid, almost odorless, that can be from transparent to brown. At high concentrations, it has a pungent odor that resembles radish, onion, garlic, or mustard itself, perhaps due to mixing with other chemicals. Its chemical nomenclature is bis(2-chloroethyl) sulfide.

This gas is not found naturally in the environment, it was synthesized in 1860, and used for the first time in 1917 as a chemical weapon during the First World War by the Germans, who wanted to bomb the Belgian city of Yprés (hence her name Yperita). It is a vesicant-type toxic agent as it is absorbed through the skin causing irritation, blisters, sores, edema and burns on external mucous membranes and respiratory tract upon contact.

The mechanism of action of mustard gas includes the presence of water, hence the most humid areas of the body (eyes, respiratory tract, armpits, among others) are the most affected. The action of this product is based on its ability to establish covalent bonds with other substances. Through this link I can react with many organic molecules, mainly the molecules containing nitrogen and -SH groups in proteins and peptides, of which we have many in our body.

Normally, the signs and symptoms do not appear immediately; its latency period can last between 2 to 24 hours, even more, everything will depend on the exposure and the sensitivity of the person. Exposure to mustard gas is not fatal, when it was used during the world wars, it killed less than 5% of people who were exposed and received medical attention.

As serious consequences of a large exposure to this gas, there are second and third degree burns, repeated respiratory infections, etc., long-term effects such as permanent blindness, chronic obstructive bronchitis, emphysema, lung and respiratory cancer, decreased number of sperm, and congenital defects, since it also damages the DNA of the human being.

There is no specific antidote against this agent, because the body itself is responsible for regenerating the affected tissues over time. However, a quick washing intervention with soap and water can considerably shorten the recovery period. It is also advised that the ground, skin and clothing affected by this gas need to be treated with lime chloride, in order to eliminate its harmful effects.

In addition to sulfur mustard gas, there are other analogous compounds such as nitrogen mustards, and arsines, the latter are produced by mixing mustard gas with lewisite (arsenic derivative product), their effects are similar, only that they appear immediately and not for hours.

Previously, this gas could be used to treat psoriasis and cancer. The use of mustard gas during war was prohibited by the Geneva Protocol in 1925 and the Chemical Weapons Convention in 1993, and its production, procurement and storage were also prohibited. In our times, mustard gas was used in the war between Iran and Iraq in 1980-1988, it was the largest attack with chemical weapons against the civilian population, specifically the Kurdish population of northern Iraq, at least 5,000 people died and 65,000 suffered serious skin and respiratory diseases.