Weapon Review – Mustard Gas

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This continues an intermittent series on weapons that are particularly adaptable to Special Operations Low Intensity Conflict (SOLIC) situations or so-called ‘zombie wars’. There are a number of weapons that are easy to both make and use in these small wars/guerrilla conflicts. Some, such as mustard gas was used as recently as 2009 against the Tamil Tigers who were in rebellion against the Sri Lanka Government. Because it’s comparatively easy to make, motivated rebels too, can manufacture and deploy blistering agents.

Mustard gas was first discovered in 1822, but it was weaponized much later, first by the German army (World War 1) against British soldiers near Ypres, Belgium in 1917. The Allies did not use mustard gas for another six months. 
Any moderately competent chemist can make ‘mustard gas’ in a rudimentary laboratory. The beauty of a blistering agent such as mustard gas is that victims exposed to mustard gas rarely suffer immediate symptoms, and mustard-contaminated areas may appear completely normal, victims can unknowingly receive high dosages. 

Siri Lanka: The government used mustard gas against the
Tamil rebels in 2009. 
You can see the impact of a moderate exposure
in the photo above.
Within 24 hours of exposure to mustard agent, victims experience intense itching and skin irritation, which gradually turns into large blisters filled with yellow fluid wherever the mustard agent contacted the skin. These chemical burns are very debilitating. Mustard gas vapor easily penetrates clothing fabrics such as wool or cotton, so it is not only the exposed skin of victims that gets burned. If the victim’s eyes were exposed then they become sore after which the eyelids swell, resulting in temporary blindness. 

At very high concentrations, if inhaled, mustard agent causes bleeding and blistering within the respiratory system. Depending on the level of contamination, mustard gas burns can vary between first and second degree, though they can also be every bit as severe, disfiguring and dangerous as third degree burns. Severe mustard gas burns (i.e. where more than 50% of the victim’s skin has been burned) are often fatal, with death occurring after some days or even weeks have passed. 

Mild or moderate exposure to mustard agent (photo above) is unlikely to kill, though victims require lengthy periods of medical treatment and convalescence before recovery is complete. The mutagenic and carcinogenic  effects of mustard agent mean that victims who recover from mustard gas burns have an increased risk of developing cancer in later life.

Different types of Mustard Gas style blister agents.
Chemical Code Trivial name CAS number PubChem Structure
Bis(2-chloroethyl)sulfide H/HD Mustard 505-60-2 PubChem 10461 Sulfur mustard.svg
1,2-Bis-(2-chloroethylthio)-ethane Q Sesquimustard 3563-36-8 PubChem 19092 Sesquimustard.svg
Bis-(2-chloroethylthioethyl)-ether T O-mustard 63918-89-8 PubChem 45452 O-Mustard.svg
2-Chloroethyl chloromethyl sulfide 2625-76-5 2-Chlorethylchlormethylsulfid.svg
Bis-(2-chloroethylthio)-methane HK 63869-13-6 Bis-(2-chlorethylthio)-methan.svg
Bis-1,3-(2-chloroethylthio)-n-propane 63905-10-2 Bis-1,3-(2-chlorethylthio)-n-propan.svg
Bis-1,4-(2-chloroethylthio)-n-butane 142868-93-7 Bis-1,4-(2-chlorethylthio)-n-butan.svg
Bis-1,5-(2-chloroethylthio)-n-pentane 142868-94-8 Bis-1,5-(2-chlorethylthio)-n-pentan.svg
Bis-(2-chloroethylthiomethyl)-ether 63918-90-1 Bis-(2-chlorethylthiomethyl)-ether.svg

6 thoughts on “Weapon Review – Mustard Gas

  1. Sulfur is the devil in this family of compounds–hard to control–as it's been around and worshiped since the early days of alchemy. And of course the olefin scaffold–by-product of oil refining.

  2. Precisely. It's not that difficult to find the ingredients. Which is why it is one of those weapons that can cause serious trouble.

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