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Mustard gas

Mustard gas is a chemical compound that was used as a chemical weapon in World War I. In pure form, it is a colourless, odourless, viscous liquid at room temperature and causes blistering of the skin. The name comes from impure mustard gas, which has an odour resembling mustard, garlic or horseradish. Other names include yperite, sulphur mustard, and Kampfstoff LOST (LOST gas). It was first synthesised by V. Meyer in 1886. The abbreviation LOST comes from Lommel och Steinkopf[?] who developed a process for mass-producing the gas for war use at the German company Bayer.

Chemically, it is a thioether with the formula C4H8Cl2S. Its structure can be described as 1,1,thiobis[2,chloroethane] or (ClCH2CH2)2S or 2,2'-dichlorodiethyl sulfide or bis-(2-chloroethyl)sulfide).

It was first used by the German Army against Canadian soldiers in 1917 and later also against the French. It was dispersed as an aerosol in a mixture with other chemicals, giving it a yellow-brown colour and a distinctive odour. Mustard gas was lethal in only about 1% of cases. Its effectiveness was as an incapacitating agent: a wounded soldier slows an advancing army much more than a dead one.

Mustard gas is a strong vesicant[?] (a compound that causes blisters). Those exposed suffer immediate itching which develops (in 4 to 24 hours) into deep blisters on the skin, the eyes become sore and the eyelids swollen, possibly leading to conjunctivitis and blindness. At very high concentrations, if inhaled, it causes bleeding and blistering within the respiratory system, damaging the mucous membrane and leading to pulmonary edema.

Skin damage can be reduced if povidone iodine in a base of glycofurol is rapidly applied. The vesicant property can be neutralised by oxidation or chlorination, common bleach (NaOCl-) can be used or decontamination solution "DS2" (2% NaOH, 70% diethylenetriamine, 28% ethylene glycol monomethyl ether). Mustard gas is probably also carcinogenic (cancer causing).

Most of the mustard gas found in Germany after World War II was dumped into the Baltic Sea. It is possible to mistake a piece of polymerised mustard gas for amber, which can lead to severe health problems.

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