Earth & Conservation

How Dangerous Are Chemical Weapons?

In 1899, the Hague Convention put a ban on chemical weapons, but they are still used today. So, just how dangerous are chemical weapons?

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Efforts to ban chemical weapons go all the way back to 1899 at the Hague Convention. That treaty prohibited the use of "poisonous arms" and "asphyxiating gases." That did not stop countries from using chemical weapons all the way to the present day, in conflicts large and small.

In recent years, chemical agents have been used against civilians in Syria. As Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's regime continues to fight rebel groups and ISIS' attacks persist, there's more and more evidence of chemical weapons. In August 2015, Syrian regime forces attacked the town of Marea, killing one person and wounding at least 10 people. The local hospital reported a surge of wounded patients with symptoms consistent with chemical weapons use--difficulty breathing, red patchy skin, diarrhea, and watery eyes. Although this incident has yet to be independently verified for chemical agent use, experts told the Wall Street Journal that all evidence seemed to confirm it. This comes just a few months after ISIS forces used mustard agent against Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria.

Meanwhile, Assad's forces are allegedly using chlorine gas as a weapon against rebels and civilians. Some two years after Assad agreed to export all chemical agents in Syria, he is disregarding international law. As rebel groups have gained some territory, regime forces are rigging chlorine bombs that make it very hard to breathe. Unlike more lethal agents like mustard, chlorine is only deadly in highly concentrated amounts and if no medical treatment is immediately available. Thus, chlorine is not as stringently banned as some substances. As reported by the New York Times, human rights groups and civilians say Assad is fully aware of this and they cannot believe the international community is not doing more to help those suffering.

Learn More:
Chemical Weapons Convention (opcw.org)
"The Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) comprises a Preamble, 24 Articles, and 3 Annexes-the Annex on Chemicals, the Verification Annex, and the Confidentiality Annex."

Chemical Warfare: Poison Gases in World War 1 (compoundchem.com)
"I'll be accompanying some of the students from my school on a history trip to Ypres and a few other World War 1 battlefields in a few weeks' time."

A Brief History of Chemical War (chemheritage.org)
"Three substances were responsible for most chemical-weapons injuries and deaths during World War I: chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gas."

1988: Thousands die in Halabja gas attack (news.bbc.co.uk)
"Thousands of people are reported to have been killed and many others injured in a poison gas attack on a Kurdish city in northern Iraq."