Chemical Hazards

Chemical Hazards

Andrew’s Note:  Today we return to the MULTI-SERVICE DOCTRINE FOR CHEMICAL, BIOLOGICAL, RADIOLOGICAL, AND NUCLEAR OPERATIONS , FM 3-11, MCWP 3-37.1, NWP 3-11, AFTTP 3-2.42 dated July 2011, Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.  Today’s entry is the second entry in this series.  In the first article in this series we discussed  (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) Incidents and Hazards.  Today’s extract goes into more depth on Chemical Hazards and we’ll discuss Biological Hazards in the next installment.


1-24. Historically, chemical hazards of military concern were limited to a small group of uniquely manufactured chemical weapons referred to as chemical warfare agents.  However, the types of chemical hazards of concern to the military have expanded tremendously over the last decade and now include a large number of toxic industrial chemicals.  Chemical hazards are any chemicals (manufactured, used, transported, or stored) that can cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of those materials.

This includes chemical weapons (prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention), chemical agents, and toxic industrial chemicals.

Chemical Weapons

1-25. Together or separately, chemical weapons include:

  • A toxic chemical and its precursors, except when intended for a purpose not prohibited under the  Chemical Weapons Convention.
  • A munition or device, specifically designed to cause death or other harm through the toxic properties of the above chemicals, which would be released as a result of the employment of such munition or device.
  • Any equipment specifically designed for use directly in connection with the employment of munitions or devices specified above. 

Chemical Agents

1-26. A chemical agent is a chemical substance that is intended for use in military operations to kill, seriously injure, or incapacitate, mainly through physiological effects. The term excludes riot control agents when used for law enforcement purposes, herbicides, smoke, and flame. Chemical agents are classified according to:

  • Physical state. Agents may exist as a solid, liquid, or vapor.
  • Physiological action. According to their physiological effects, there are nerve, blood, blister, choking, and incapacitating agents. (See Appendix A for detailed information.)
  • Use. The terms persistent and nonpersistent describe the time an agent stays in an area. An adversary may have to expend large quantities of chemical agents in order to cause mass casualties or achieve area denial.
    • Persistent agent. A chemical agent that, when released, can cause casualties for more than 24 hours to several days or weeks.
    • Nonpersistent agent. A chemical agent that, when released, dissipates and/or loses its ability to cause casualties after 10 to 15 minutes. 

Danger Hazardous ChemicalsToxic Industrial Chemicals

1-27. Toxic industrial chemicals are chemicals that are developed or manufactured for use in industrial operations or research by industry, government, or academia. Examples include pesticides, petrochemicals, fertilizers, corrosives, explosives, and poisons. These chemicals are not primarily manufactured for the specific purpose of producing human casualties or rendering equipment, facilities, or areas dangerous for human use. For example, hydrogen cyanide, cyanogen chloride, phosgene, and chloropicrin are industrial chemicals that can also be military chemical agents.

1-28. Toxic industrial chemicals can pose significant toxic hazards and can damage the human body and equipment. Many industrial chemicals are corrosive, flammable, explosive, or combustible; these hazards may pose greater short-term challenges than the immediate toxic effects. Most toxic industrial chemicals will be released as vapor or highly volatile liquid and can have short- and long-term health effects. The release of large volumes of hazardous industrial chemicals can also produce environmental damage.

Other Sources

1-29. Riot control agents, herbicides, and substances that generate smoke and flame are excluded from classification contained in the  Chemical Weapons Convention and when used for law enforcement purposes. (See Appendix A for more details on riot control agents and herbicides.) Defoliants are chemicals that are sprayed or dusted onto plants, causing the leaves to fall off prematurely. Unlike herbicides, defoliants do not totally destroy plants. 

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