Facts About Sulfur Mustard

About Sulfur Mustard
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sulfur mustard is

  • Sulfur mustard
    is a type of chemical warfare agent. These kinds of agents are called
    vesicants or blistering agents, because they cause blistering of the
    skin and mucous membranes on contact.
  • Sulfur mustard
    is also known as “mustard gas or mustard agent,” or by the military
    designations H, HD, and HT.
  • Sulfur mustard
    sometimes smells like garlic, onions, or mustard and sometimes has no
    odor. It can be a vapor (the gaseous form of a liquid), an oily-textured
    liquid, or a solid.
  • Sulfur mustard
    can be clear to yellow or brown when it is in liquid or solid form.

Where sulfur mustard is found and how it is used

  • Sulfur mustard
    is not found naturally in the environment.
  • Sulfur mustard
    was introduced in World War I as a chemical warfare agent. Until recently,
    it was available for use in the treatment of a skin condition called
    psoriasis. Currently, it has no medical use.

people are exposed to sulfur mustard

  • If sulfur
    mustard is released into the air as a vapor, people can be exposed through
    skin contact, eye contact, or breathing. Sulfur mustard vapor can be
    carried long distances by wind.
  • If sulfur
    mustard is released into water, people can be exposed by drinking the
    contaminated water or getting it on their skin.
  • People can
    be exposed by coming in contact with liquid sulfur mustard.
  • Sulfur mustard
    can last from 1 to 2 days in the environment under average weather conditions
    and from weeks to months under very cold conditions.
  • Sulfur mustard
    breaks down slowly in the body, so repeated exposure may have a cumulative
    effect (that is, it can build up in the body).

sulfur mustard works

  • Adverse
    health effects caused by sulfur mustard depend on the amount people
    are exposed to, the route of exposure, and the length of time that people
    are exposed.
  • Sulfur mustard
    is a powerful irritant and blistering agent that damages the skin, eyes,
    and respiratory (breathing) tract.
  • It damages
    DNA, a vital component of cells in the body.
  • Sulfur mustard
    vapor is heavier than air, so it will settle in low-lying areas.

signs and symptoms of sulfur mustard exposure

  • Exposure
    to sulfur mustard is usually not fatal. When sulfur mustard was used
    during World War I, it killed fewer than 5% of the people who were exposed
    and got medical care.
  • People may
    not know right away that they have been exposed, because sulfur mustard
    often has no smell or has a smell that might not cause alarm.
  • Typically,
    signs and symptoms do not occur immediately. Depending on the severity
    of the exposure, symptoms may not occur for 2 to 24 hours. Some people
    are more sensitive to sulfur mustard than are other people, and may
    have symptoms sooner.
  • Sulfur mustard
    can have the following effects on specific parts of the body:

    • Skin:
      redness and itching of the skin may occur 2 to 48 hours after exposure
      and change eventually to yellow blistering of the skin.
    • Eyes:
      irritation, pain, swelling, and tearing may occur within 3 to 12
      hours of a mild to moderate exposure. A severe exposure may cause
      symptoms within 1 to 2 hours and may include the symptoms of a mild
      or moderate exposure plus light sensitivity, severe pain, or blindness
      (lasting up to 10 days).
    • Respiratory
      : runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, bloody nose, sinus
      pain, shortness of breath, and cough within 12 to 24 hours of a
      mild exposure and within 2 to 4 hours of a severe exposure.
    • Digestive
      : abdominal pain, diarrhea, fever, nausea, and vomiting.

What the long-term health effects may be

  • Exposure
    to sulfur mustard liquid is more likely to produce second- and third-
    degree burns and later scarring than is exposure to sulfur mustard vapor.
    Extensive skin burning can be fatal.
  • Extensive
    breathing in of the vapors can cause chronic respiratory disease, repeated
    respiratory infections, or death.
  • Extensive
    eye exposure can cause permanent blindness.
  • Exposure
    to sulfur mustard may increase a person’s risk for lung and respiratory

people can protect themselves and what they should do if they are exposed
to sulfur mustard

  • Because
    no antidote exists for sulfur mustard exposure, the best thing to do
    is avoid it. Immediately leave the area where the sulfur mustard was
    released. Try to find higher ground, because sulfur mustard is heavier
    than air and will settle in low-lying areas.
  • If avoiding
    sulfur mustard exposure is not possible, rapidly remove the sulfur mustard
    from the body. Getting the sulfur mustard off as soon as possible after
    exposure is the only effective way to prevent or decrease tissue damage
    to the body.
  • Quickly
    remove any clothing that has liquid sulfur mustard on it. If possible,
    seal the clothing in a plastic bag, and then seal that bag inside a
    second plastic bag.
  • Immediately
    wash any exposed part of the body (eyes, skin, etc.) thoroughly with
    plain, clean water. Eyes need to be flushed with water for 5 to 10 minutes.
    Do NOT cover eyes with bandages, but do protect them with dark glasses
    or goggles.
  • If someone
    has ingested sulfur mustard, do NOT induce vomiting. Give the person
    milk to drink.
  • Stay calm.
    Dial 911 and explain what has happened.
  • Wait for
    emergency personnel to arrive.

sulfur mustard exposure is treated

The most important
factor is removing sulfur mustard from the body. Exposure to sulfur mustard
is treated by giving the victim supportive medical care to minimize the
effects of the exposure. Though no antidote exists for sulfur mustard,
exposure is usually not fatal.

people can get more information about sulfur mustard

For more information
about sulfur mustard, people can contact the following:

  • Regional
    poison control center (1-800-222-1222)
  • Centers
    for Disease Control and Prevention Public Response Hotline (CDC)

    • English
      (888) 246-2675
    • Español
      (888) 246-2857
    • TTY
      (866) 874-2646
  • Agency for
    Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (1-888-422-8737)