Nerve Agents

Nerve agents are very poisonous chemicals designed to attack the nervous system. They can be used as weapons during war, or by terrorists. Generally, nerve agents are most dangerous in gas form. When released into a crowded area, people may inhale them and become suddenly ill or die. In liquid form, nerve agents can be used to poison food and water. 

There are several nerve agents, including sarin, soman, tabun and VX. 

In the 1990s, terrorists released sarin gas in Japan on two separate occasions. Several people were killed and thousands were injured. 

Symptoms of exposure include:

  • Nausea, vomiting and cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Small pupils
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooling
  • Sweating
  • Uncontrolled urination
  • Rapid breathing
  • Convulsions (severe exposure)

How to respond if you are exposed:

While it’s very unlikely that nerve agents would be used in an attack, it’s not impossible. In case of exposure, people should take the following actions:

  • Leave the contaminated area quickly and seek fresh air. If the attack is outdoors, move to higher ground (nerve agents sink to low-lying areas).
  • Remove your outer clothing, and set it aside for removal by authorities.
  • Wash your body thoroughly and rinse your eyes out for 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Get medical attention. You may require treatment for full recovery.

Chemical Preparedness Resources


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Last updated May 15, 2015