Biological, chemical warfare agents have roles in today’s, yesterday’s wars

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Carrie Merced
  • 8th Medical Operations Squadron
"Gas, gas, gas!" is a phrase many of us have heard during exercises and readiness training.

No matter how long you have been around the military, whether you are new to the Air Force or near retirement, we all have heard of biological and chemical warfare agents.

We have all done the computer-based training, hands-on training, briefings, numerous exercises, and received immunizations; but how much do you really know about these two agents?

Biological agents are toxic chemicals produced by living organisms and are usually in the form of bacteria, fungi or viruses. We can typically protect ourselves against these agents by ensuring our immunizations are current and up to date. Biological agents are easy to hide and difficult to detect and protect against once we are contaminated. These types of agents are invisible, odorless and tasteless and can be disseminated through the air by aerosol sprays, used in explosives, put into food or water, or absorbed through or injected into the skin. Some examples of biological agents include smallpox, anthrax, the ebola virus and the plague.

Chemical agents are manufactured chemicals usually distributed through mortars, artillery shells, missiles, bombs, mines or spray tanks. Victims are usually exposed to these agents through the skin, orally, intravenously or through the respiratory tract. Most of us have heard of mustard gas, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide and tabun, which are all categorized as chemical warfare agents.

The intentions of both warfare agents are to cause disease or death among personnel, animals and plants through various means. Both biological and chemical warfare agents' usage can be dated centuries back and still plays a big role in our wars today. In 1925, an initial treaty, by the name of the Geneva Protocol, was put in place prohibiting the use of biological and chemical weapons. As of today, 137 countries and states have agreed to this protocol. However, some countries like North Korea have yet to sign it so there is a potential for threat in the Republic of Korea.

Obviously, due to the never-ending lists of ways to use and create these agents, we could never protect ourselves completely from these kinds of agents, unless everyone started living in their chemical protection gear. But knowing the difference in biological and chemical agents can help us recognize and correctly prevent or treat their effects.