High-Threat Chemical Agents: Characteristics, Effects, and Policy Implications [Updated September 9, 2003]   [open pdf - 124KB]

"Terrorist use of chemical agents has been a noted concern, highlighted after the Tokyo Sarin gas attacks of 1995. The events of September 11, 2001, increased Congressional attention towards reducing the vulnerability of the United States to such attacks. High-threat chemical agents, which include chemical weapons and some toxic industrial chemicals, are normally organized by military planners into four groups: nerve agents, blister agents, choking agents, and blood agents. While the relative military threat posed by the various chemical types has varied over time, use of these chemicals against civilian targets is viewed as a low probability, high consequence event. High-threat chemical agents, depending on the type of agent used, cause a variety of symptoms in their victims. Some cause death by interfering with the nervous system. Some inhibit breathing and lead to asphyxiation. Others have caustic effects on contact. As a result, chemical attack treatment may be complicated by the need to identify at least the type of chemical used. Differences in treatment protocols for the various high-threat agents may also strain the resources of the public health system, especially in the case of mass casualties. Additionally, chemical agents trapped on the body or clothes of victims may place first responders and medical professionals at risk."

Report Number:
CRS Report for Congress, RL31861
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