Dichlorodiethylsulfide, for which the chemical formula is C4H8Cl2S, is a chemical warfare agent known commonly as sulfur mustard or mustard gas. The first notes on its toxic properties occurred in the late 1880s by dye chemists. Its first use as an agent of chemical war was during World War I where exposed troops described its odor as a stench like mustard or garlic, leading to its common name.
What Does Mustard Gas Do?
Dubbed the “King of the Battle Gases,” the effects of mustard gas are not immediate, even though it is a potent blistering agent. Hours after exposure to the chemical, a victim’s eyes become bloodshot and begin to water. As the pain increases, some will suffer temporary blindness. A young Adolf Hilter, an enlisted messenger during World War I, was temporarily blinded by mustard gas during a gas attack and spent the rest of the war in a military hospital recuperating.
Along with the damage to a victim’s vision, the effects of mustard gas include blistering to the skin, particularly in moist areas such as the underarms and genitals. These blisters eventually begin to burst and often become infected.
When Was Mustard Gas Used?
Though first used during World War I, mustard gas was used throughout World War II as well. The development of chemical weapons has been an imperative for all military-obsessed governments ever since.
During the 1980s throughout the Iran-Iraq war, Iraq used chemical weapons, including mustard gas, against Iran as well as their own Kurdish minority. In fact, about 5,000 Iranian soldiers were killed, 10-20 percent by mustard agent. There were an additional 40,000-50,000 injured in a medical system overloaded by numerous victims in need of long and demanding care.
Mustard Gas’ Widespread Fog
In 2012, an official from the United States State Department confirmed that Syria had a stockpile of chemical weapons that included mustard gas. In 2013, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad’s government relinquished its arsenal of chemical weapons after threats of United States airstrikes; nonetheless, as recently as April of 2018 the OPCW Fact-Finding missions have reported “the very likely use” of chemical weapons by the Syrian government against its own civilians.
Over the last twenty years, more than 60 percent of the world’s declared chemical weapon stockpiles were successfully eliminated in five of the seven declared chemical-weapons-possessing states. Despite these admirable efforts, almost 30,000 metric tons of chemical weapons still await destruction.
Stockpiles of Chemical Horror
In many conversations, nuclear and biological weapons overshadow the concern of chemical weapons; however, chemical weapons remain the most numerous, with some five million munitions awaiting destruction and two to four million additional suspected stockpiles undeclared by OPCW undeclared states.
Chemical weapons pose great risks to all people, especially those living in conflict-torn and terrorist heavy regions.
The Quest for Global Disarmament
Al Qaeda, Iraqi and Afghan insurgents continue efforts to steal or produce deadly chemical agents for indiscriminate terrorist attacks. It is everyone’s responsibility to work to destroy the world’s remaining chemical weapon stockpiles by supporting representatives who make the global disarmament of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons a priority.
A world free of all weapons of mass destruction will be a world safer and more secure for all who inhabit Earth.
– Carolina Sherwood Bigelow