In the 20th century, a growing arms race led to the development of chemical weapons. A range of nerve agents was created by scientists in laboratories to be used in war conflicts. Soman (GD) is one of the most lethal and widely used nerve agents that allow destroying military forces. This paper aims to discuss the history of Soman, its properties, usage, decontamination management, and other nerve agents, including Sarin (GB), VX, and Tabun (GA). Although GD was created several decades ago, it requires being aware of its key features and ways to treat contaminated persons in case of emergency.
Soman’s History and Properties
In Germany, a cluster of researchers worked on the creation of new types of pesticides. In 1936, Gerhard Schrader from IG Farben company managed to synthesize a new organophosphorus insecticide, which had the highest efficiency, which was named Tabun (GA) (Stojiljković, 2019). However, it soon became clear that it is perfect not only for the destruction of pests but also for the mass persecution of people. Subsequent developments were under the control of the military. In 1938, similar research led to the creation of a much more toxic substance, Sarin (Marx, 2018). Ultimately, Schrader discovered Soman as a nerve agent in 1944 in the course of future experiments. All three agents are fatal to humans after their exposure for several minutes. During the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) in 1993, it was agreed to deconstruct and stop transferring chemical weapons in all countries (Marx, 2018). However, it should be stated that North Korea, South Sudan, Angola, and Egypt did not sign this agreement.
To be aware of Soman protection and treatment, it is important to learn about its characteristics. Soman is a colorless liquid made of an organophosphorus compound that tends to become dark brown with aging. It evaporates as a colorless gas that is described to have a smell of apples, camphor, or rotting fruits. Even an extremely small portion of these nerve agents, such as 1 ml, can cause death if it is inhaled or absorbed from the skin (Soman (GD): Nerve Agent, 2021). Among the key methods of using Soman, there are inhalation and water and food contamination. In addition, it can be released as both liquid and has aerosol. As for agricultural contamination, Soman is unlikely to damage people if it is released as a vapor. Nervous system damage is the main goal of this nerve agent, which can be expressed in seizures, paralysis, the loss of consciousness, bradycardia, muscular twitching, and death (Marx, 2018). Also, sweating, vomiting, contracted or pinpoint pupils, the accumulation of fluid in the lungs can be present.
Using Soman and Defense Management
The first area of using Soman is chemical warfare to affect the opponents by disorienting them. The key advantage of using this nerve agent is its high toxicity and immediate impact. Without proper equipment and garments, the opponents have little chance to remain unaffected. The Bolsheviks carried out such attacks during the Civil War, and the Italians used agents for military purposes in Ethiopia in the 1930s (Stojiljković, 2019). The second area of applying Soman is terrorism. For example, Saddam Hussein, the ex- Iraqi dictator, poisoned rebel Kurds with nerve agents in the late 1980s. Since the first episodes of using Soman, there has been constant work on improving the means of protection against chemical weapons. Significant progress has been made in this area as well (Stojiljković, 2019). Therefore, at present, the use of poisonous substances against regular troops will not be as effective as during the First and Second World Wars. However, if chemical weapons are used against the civilian population, the results will be frightening.
On the battlefield, defense management requires special garments and skin-tight masks. To protect people from hazardous gases and liquids, filter masks contain activated charcoal, garments are made from membranous materials, and toxic-free shelters ensure higher safety. Hulse et al. (2018) state that management of a contaminated patient should include a well-developed and immediate response from medical personnel to avoid health complications. The first aid measures should include an antidote therapy with Atropine and the removal of contaminated clothes and other sources of exposure (Hulse et al., 2018). As for long-term implications, patients should receive the monitoring and evaluation of persistent central nervous system impacts (Soman (GD): Nerve Agent, 2021). Equipment and environment should also be decontaminated to isolate the area and prevent further disposal of toxic agents.
In civilian defense, the main problem is that people are not prepared to protect themselves from nerve agent attacks. In addition, many buildings contain toxic materials that can complicate the influence of bioterrorism attacks (Stojiljković, 2019). Nevertheless, protective anti-chemical capes and suits can be used to protect the surface of the body and skin from damage. Waterproof protective raincoats are available to the population, as well as various improvised means, for example, coats can be used. According to Stojiljković (2019), the collective means of protection may involve special shelters that should be sealed and equipped with filter-ventilation installations. Homes, commercial buildings, and other spaces can also serve as protection if they are properly reinforced.
Other G Nerve Agents: Tabun, Sarin, and VX
There is also a range of other G nerve agents that prevent the nervous system from functioning adequately. Tabun (GA) is a highly toxic organophosphorus compound that was widely used during World War II by Germany. Sarin was also developed by German chemists and then produced by the US. In turn, VX, where V is used for venom, was introduced by the British government as a biological weapon. It is considered that the Soviet Union and Syria twisted their VX arsenals, but none of them has it today. It should be stressed that substance VX is about ten times more toxic than Sarin (Marx et al., 2018). The main difference between VX and Sarin and Soman is its particularly high level of toxicity when applied to the skin. Compared to Tabun and Sarin, Soman requires more skills to produce it, and is more lethal. Today, scientists work on developing early detection systems, such as laser photoacoustic spectroscopy, that can identify gaseous agents.
To conclude, this paper discusses the history, properties, and use of Soman, which is considered to be one of the most lethal nerve agents. It was developed in Germany during World War II and disseminated to other countries. The highly toxic nature makes Soman a biological weapon threat to humankind, which means that it can significantly impact not only military personnel but also the civilian population. The paper also compares Soman with other G nerve agents to clarify its potential use and consequences. Even though research on the Soman defense provides some valuable information about the organization of shelters and medical support, there is still a need to strengthen the preparedness for related emergency cases.
Hulse, E. J., Haslam, J. D., Emmett, S. R., & Woolley, T. (2019). Organophosphorus nerve agent poisoning: Managing the poisoned patient. British Journal of Anaesthesia, 123(4), 457-463.
Marx, J., Hockberger, R., & Walls, R. (2018). Rosen’s emergency medicine: Concepts and clinical practice (7th ed.). Elsevier Health Sciences.
Soman (GD): Nerve Agent. (2021).
Stojiljković, M. P. (2019). Nerve agents – A clear and present danger to mankind. Scripta Medica, 50(3), 109-111.