Home Podcasts THMG035 – WMD, Part II

THMG035 – WMD, Part II


We wrap up our two-part series on WMD by continuing our discussion and breaking down various terms.

Complete Show Notes

00:45 C – Chemical

  • Many chemicals out there can be weaponized and harmful – they can act as nerve and warfare agents
  • Most warfare agents are 50-100 times more powerful than standard chemicals
  • These chemicals are liquids but are turned into aerosols and then used to hurt people
  • Colorless – some do have certain types of odors (sulfurous, fruity, flowers, etc.)
    • It’s hard to determine whether a chemical warfare agent is present since we encounter so many different smells each day
    • Victims can often tell us what these agents smell like, which can be very helpful
  • Lettering designations for chemicals are typically marked G (Germany), V (venom), H, etc.
  • Persistence – how long it sticks around after being released (affected by weather conditions)
  • Volatility – how much it wants to get out of liquid and into the air – lessening the volatility make these substances into more of a weapon
  • The goal of people using these WMDs is to have it spread via person-to-person contact
  • V Agents are more persistent and dangerous than G Agents
  • All 4 nerve agents are heavier than air – they’re going to go down

9:25 Nerve Agents

  • Misting – this allows it to be spread to as many people as possible
  • Can also be put on things people touch frequently (transdermal) – railings, doorknobs, handles, etc.
  • Sarin (GB)
    • Clear, colorless, odorless, tasteless
    • Usually aerosolized and applied to different objects
  • Tabun (GA)
    • Clear, colorless, odorless, tasteless
    • Usually aerosolized and applied to different objects
  • Soman (GD)
    • Clear, colorless, odorless, tasteless
    • Usually aerosolized and applied to different objects
  • V Agent (VX)
    • Clear, amber color
    • Oily appearance
    • Generally miscible in water and dissolves in all solvents
    • Least volatile of all the nerve agents – but in the grand scheme of things, all of them aren’t volatile
    • Usually aerosolized and applied to different objects

12:00 Signs and Symptoms of Exposure to Nerve Agents

  • Popular mnemonics used to remember human (and animal) nerve agent symptoms:
    • D – diarrhea
    • U – urination
    • M – miosis (pupil constriction)
    • B – bronchospasms (difficulty breathing)
    • B – bradycardia (slow heartbeat)
    • E – excite skeletal muscle and CNS emesis (vomiting)
    • L – lacrimation (tearing)
    • L – lethargy
    • S – salivation
    • S – salivation
    • L – lacrimation
    • U – urination
    • D – diarrhea
    • G – GI upset (cramps)
    • E – emesis (vomiting)
    • M – muscular twitching

13:30 Blister Agents (Vesicants)

  • These are extremely toxic agents – many of them are carcinogens that produce acute and chronic ailments
  • Lead to nearly instantaneous (less than 5 minutes) blistering of affected skin
  • Oily structure makes blister agents very difficult to remove during decontamination
  • Mustard gas (H)
    • Colorless to pale liquid to brown
    • Smells like garlic or onion (contains heavy sulfur compounds)
    • Delay of 2-24 hours – this is the only blister agent to give delayed symptoms
  • Distilled mustard (HD)
    • Colorless to pale yellow to pale brown
    • Smells like garlic or onion (contains heavy sulfur compounds)
  • Nitrogen mustard
    • Colorless to pale yellow to pale brown
    • Smells like garlic or onion (contains heavy sulfur compounds)
  • Lewisite (L)
    • Smells like geraniums
  • Phosgene oxime (CX)
    • Creates a pinwheel gray rash-type blister
  • Effects of blister agents look a lot like the effects of riot control chemicals, but they create more severe pain

15:10 Hazmat Drill Nugget from HazSim

  • All about sampling and sampling inside the hot zone
  • Take samples to a non-contaminated area in the hot zone and run all of your samples
  • Doing this keeps you from bringing dangerous substances outside the hot zone and keeps your tools at waist height
  • Always have a clean version of what you’re sampling for comparison purposes

18:15 Blood Agents

  • These interfere with the body’s ability to use oxygen on the cellular level
  • Very volatile, non-persistent, and can be liquids when under pressure
  • Around 40% of the population can’t smell blood agents
  • Common side effects include seizures – this is because the body is being depleted of oxygen
  • Don’t give you the pinpoint pupils that we associate with nerve agents – this is because nerve agents block nerve signals
  • Hydrogen cyanide (AC)
    • Flammable
    • Main route of absorption is through the lungs, eyes, mouth, and nose
    • Manifests with respiratory difficulties/arrest and severe reddening of the skin
  • Cyanogen chloride (CK)
    • Can be treated with a cyanogen kit – includes different nitrates and sulfates that draw the cyanide from the cell and toxify it to remove it from the body

20:30 Choking Agents

  • Includes phosgene and chlorine
  • These work by producing pulmonary edema – in other words, drowning in your own body fluids in your lungs
  • Pesticides and agricultural chemicals also fall into this category

21:00 Riot Control Agents and Irritants

  • Also known as harassment agents
  • Includes things like pepper spray, tear gas, mace, etc.

22:20 Responding and Determining Which Agent You’re Dealing With

  • If there’s no ventilation or things are aerosolized, be sure to wear your gear
  • You don’t have to go Level A, but you should definitely wear bunker gear, especially if it’s a life or death situation
  • Interview people before you go on-scene to figure out what was used
  • If possible, open up any windows so it can blow outside
  • Then, go in and do a closer interrogation of the area in case it has persistence
  • Looking at signs and symptoms can also help you determine which agent you’re dealing with

27:50 Etiologicals

  • Substances that are capable of causing a disease
  • Examples include hepatitis viruses and HIV

28:15 Combination Devices

  • Includes things like RDDs (radiological dispersal device)
  • Created by packing radioactive material around a conventional detonation device
  • Can lead to radiation burns and acute poisoning – long-term problems include cancer, contaminated ground water, etc.
  • These devices also scare the crap out of people because they have radiation – psychological effects

29:20 TRACEM

  • Mnemonic device that represents the hazards of WMDs
    • T – thermal: anything causing thermal heat damage (hot and cold substances)
    • R – radiological: anything causing radioactive damage (alpha, beta, and gamma particles)
    • A – asphyxiation: anything causing simple and complex/chemical asphyxiation
    • C – chemical: any toxic or corrosive materials
    • E – etiological: all of the bacteria and toxins that come from biological hazards
    • M – mechanical: includes things like blast pressures, shock waves, fragmentation, and bombs
  • Basically represents how hazardous materials can reach out and hurt you

31:25 Secondary Devices

  • Goal of these items is to create as much damage as possible and overwhelm any resources
  • Often released during terrorist attacks – designed to injure and kill first responders
  • Reduce your chances of being injured in several ways
    • Stage your apparatus and personnel well away from the initial blast
    • Stay clear of large shrubs, dumpsters, mailboxes, and other objects that could conceal a secondary device
    • Search all victims before transporting them
    • Be very careful with your communications – for example, radio signals could trigger an explosion
    • Work in groups of 2 – if you’re in the hot zone, make sure there are teams backing you up in the warm zone
    • A rescue intervention team that’s waiting on the sidelines should be ready to jump in and help the first responders if necessary
    • Beware of booby traps, too

33:40 PPE Selection

  • Always follow the rules of time, distance, and shielding – minimize time, maximize distance, and use the best shielding
  • Use as much gear as possible, including your rig or a building – doesn’t have to only be what’s on your person
  • We wear PPE to limit our exposure and keep us safe – it’s important to know what you can and can’t do while in your PPE, though
  • At an operations level, you may not have too many choices – probably bunker gear
  • Technicians have more choices, so you need to think about what your concerns are – bunker gear is usually the way to go

36:30 Fun Facts

  • Agents are 20 times more lethal inside than outside because they can’t disperse as readily
  • All of these agents are also included in the ERG, which is super helpful because we may have no idea what to do
    • Nerve agents are UN3278 in Guide 151
    • Blood agents are UN1051 in Guide 117
    • Blister agents (vesicants) are UN2810 in Guide 153
  • Metering – we try to equate WMD incidents with hazmat incidents – you should always have your meters with you
  • Some companies are working on developing meters for biological situations – there are monitors for nerve agents, though
  • Sampling generally isn’t the responsibility of the fire department or EMS – usually performed by specially trained federal or state personnel

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