Friday, August 12, 2005

Weapons of Mass Destruction™

Christine Gosden and Derek Gardner in the new British Medical Journal have a review of the horrific effects of Weapons of Mass Destruction™, which they don't actually define but say "include chemical, biological and radiological agents with the potential to cause death at low doses and with serious long term health effects in survivors." They tell us that "the classic scenario of WMD use against civilians . . . is the release of the nerve agent sarin in the Tokyo subway."

They provide tables showing the horrific effects of some of these Weapons of Mass Destruction™. For example, this one. (There' s just room in this format to show the acute symptoms. Of course these agents all can cause long-term sequelae such as neurological damage and cancer.)

Chemical WMD agents and their properties


Physical characteristics

Lethal dose (LD50)

Time to onset of symptoms

Principal effects


Mustard agents

Colourless to brown oily liquid; garlic or mustard odour

7 g/person

15 minutes to 4 hours

Blisters, eye irritation, tearing, cough, dyspnoea, pulmonary oedema, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, anxiety

Nerve agents


Colourless liquid; slight fruity odour

1 g/person

Seconds to minutes Increased salivation and bronchial secretions, cough, dyspnoea

Colourless liquid; faintly sweet odour

1.7 g/person

Miosis, tearing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramp, diarrhoea, involuntary defecation and micturition

Colourless liquid; camphor odour

0.35 g/person


Colourless or amber oily liquid; odourless

0.01 g/person

Apprehension, headache, confusion, ataxia, weakness, coma, convulsions, paralysis

Here's a table from CDC, showing the horrific effects of weapons which are not Weapons of Mass Destruction™, that is, high explosive weapons used by non-terrorist organizations, such as the United States military :



Body Part Affected

Types of Injuries


Unique to HE, results from the impact of the over-pressurization wave with body surfaces.

Gas filled structures are most susceptible - lungs, GI tract, and middle ear.

Blast lung (pulmonary barotrauma)

TM rupture and middle ear damage

Abdominal hemorrhage and perforation - Globe (eye) rupture- Concussion (TBI without physical signs of head injury)


Results from flying debris and bomb fragments.

Any body part may be affected.

Penetrating ballistic (fragmentation) or blunt injuries

Eye penetration (can be occult)


Results from individuals being thrown by the blast wind.

Any body part may be affected.

Fracture and traumatic amputation

Closed and open brain injury


All explosion-related injuries, illnesses, or diseases not due to primary, secondary, or tertiary mechanisms.

Includes exacerbation or complications of existing conditions.

Any body part may be affected.

Burns (flash, partial, and full thickness)

Crush injuries

Closed and open brain injury

Asthma, COPD, or other breathing problems from dust, smoke, or toxic fumes


Hyperglycemia, hypertension

The interesting question is why the 12 people killed in the attack on the Tokyo subway were victims of Weapons of Mass Destruction™; whereas the 25,000+ people killed in Iraq by projectiles and high explosives since the U.S. invasion are not victims of Weapons of Mass Destruction™.

Could it be that this distinction is entirely arbitrary? That it would not have mattered to the inhabitants of Halabja if they had been blown up and shot, instead of gassed? That there is no significant moral distinction between dropping high explosives on people out of airplanes, or shooting them with an automatic rifle, and exposing them to anthrax? Of course there is a difference. The people with the bombs and the rifles are not terrorists, you see.