Facts About Tabun

Download PDF version formatted for print

Adobe Acrobat Reader

KB/4 pages)

What tabun

  • Tabun is a human-made
    chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are
    the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents.
    They are similar to insecticides called organophosphate insecticides
    in terms of how they work and what kinds of harmful effects they cause.
    However, nerve agents are much more potent than insecticides.
  • Tabun was originally
    developed as an insecticide in Germany in 1936.
  • Tabun is also known
    as “GA.”
  • Tabun is a clear,
    colorless, tasteless liquid with a faint fruity odor.

Where tabun is found and how it is used

  • Tabun is not found
    naturally in the environment.
  • It is possible
    that tabun or other nerve agents were used in chemical warfare during
    the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.

How people
can be exposed to tabun

  • Following release
    of tabun into the air, people can be exposed through skin contact, eye
    contact, or inhalation (breathing in the tabun mist).
  • Following release
    of tabun into water, people can be exposed by drinking contaminated
    water or getting contaminated water on their skin.
  • Following contamination
    of food with tabun, people can be exposed by eating the contaminated
  • A person’s clothing
    can release tabun for about 30 minutes after contact with tabun vapor,
    which can lead to exposure of other people.
  • Tabun breaks down
    slowly in the body, meaning that repeated exposures to tabun and/or
    other nerve agents can have a cumulative effect (build up in the body).


How tabun

  • The extent of poisoning
    caused by tabun depends on the amount of tabun a person was exposed
    to, how the person was exposed, and the length of time of the exposure.
  • Symptoms will appear
    within a few seconds after exposure to the vapor form of tabun, and
    within a few minutes to up to 18 hours after exposure to the liquid
  • All the nerve agents
    cause their toxic effects by preventing the proper operation of the
    chemical that acts as the body’s “off switch” for glands and muscles.
    Without an “off switch,” the glands and muscles are constantly being
    stimulated. They may tire and no longer be able to sustain breathing
  • Tabun vapor is
    heavier than air, so it would be more likely to settle in low-lying
  • Tabun mixes easily
    with water, so it could be used to poison water.
  • Compared with other
    nerve agents, tabun is more volatile than VX but less volatile than
    sarin. The higher a chemical’s volatility, the more likely it will evaporate
    from a liquid into a vapor and disperse into the environment. People
    can be exposed to the vapor even if they do not come in contact with
    the liquid form.
  • Because of its
    high volatility, tabun is an immediate but short-lived threat and does
    not last a long time in the environment.
  • Because tabun is
    more volatile than VX, it will remain on exposed surfaces for a shorter
    period of time compared with VX.
  • Because tabun is
    less volatile than sarin, it will remain on exposed surfaces for a longer
    period of time compared with sarin.

Immediate signs and symptoms of tabun exposure

  • Although tabun
    has a faint fruity odor, the odor may not be noticeable enough to give
    people sufficient warning against a toxic exposure.
  • People exposed
    to a low or moderate dose of tabun by inhalation, ingestion (swallowing),
    or skin absorption may experience some or all of the following symptoms
    within seconds to hours of exposure:
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes
  • Small, pinpoint
  • Eye pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooling and excessive
  • Cough
  • Chest tightness
  • Rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea
  • Increased urination
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting,
    and/or abdominal pain
  • Slow or fast heart
  • Abnormally low
    or high blood pressure
  • Even a tiny drop
    of nerve agent on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching where
    the agent touched the skin.
  • Exposure to a large
    dose of tabun by any route may result in these additional health effects:
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Convulsions
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory failure
    possibly leading to death

What the long-term health effects are

Mild or moderately exposed people usually recover completely. Some studies
in animals and people suggest that severe nerve agent poisoning can cause
long-term central nervous system effects, such as changes in brain activity.
However, it is unclear what such changes may mean, if anything, regarding
the function and long-term health status of a person who has been mildly
or moderately exposed to tabun.

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


  • Recovery from tabun
    exposure is possible with treatment, but the antidotes available must
    be used quickly to be effective. Therefore, the best thing to do is
    avoid exposure. If exposure cannot be avoided, rapidly decontaminate
    and get medical care as quickly as possible.
  • Leave the area
    where the tabun was released and get to fresh air. Quickly moving to
    an area where fresh air is available is highly effective in reducing
    the possibility of death from exposure to tabun vapor.

    • If the tabun
      release was outdoors, move away from the area where the tabun was
      released. Go to the highest ground possible, because tabun is heavier
      than air and will sink to low-lying areas.
    • If the tabun
      release was indoors, get out of the building.
  • Remove any clothing
    that has liquid tabun on it, and if possible, seal the clothing in a
    plastic bag. Then seal the first plastic bag in a second plastic bag.
    Removing and sealing the clothing in this way will protect you and others
    from any chemicals that might be on your clothes.
  • If helping other
    people remove their clothing, try to avoid touching any contaminated
    areas, and remove the clothing as quickly as possible.
  • Rinse the eyes
    with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes if they are burning or vision
    is blurred.
  • As quickly as possible,
    wash any liquid tabun from the skin with large amounts of soap and water.
    Washing with soap and water will protect people from any chemicals on
    their bodies.
  • If tabun has been
    ingested (swallowed), do not induce vomiting or give fluids to drink.
    Seek medical attention right away.
  • Stay calm. Dial
    911 and explain what has happened.
  • Wait for emergency
    personnel to arrive.

How tabun poisoning is treated

Tabun poisoning is
treated with antidotes and supportive medical care. The most important
thing is for victims to be rapidly decontaminated and get medical treatment
as soon as possible.

How people can get more information about tabun

People can
contact one of the following:

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

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

Leave a Comment