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VX: the most toxic of nerve agents

soldiers wearing gas masks
U.S. soldiers learn to protect themselves against VX exposure  
August 21, 1998
Web posted at: 2:44 p.m. EDT (1844 GMT)

From Correspondent Ann Kellan

(CNN) -- The Shifa pharmaceutical plant in Sudan was one of the targets in Thursday's U.S. cruise missile attacks. Top government officials say the factory was manufacturing key ingredients in the deadliest of chemical weapons: the nerve agent VX.

According to former United Nations weapons inspector David Kay, traces of VX were found on SCUD missiles in Iraq following the Gulf War. He says Iraq may even have helped build the Shifa plant in Sudan.

"Sudan is not a state that you'd normally expect to understand by itself the intricacies of the production of VX," Kay said. "I think most people suspect there was Iraqi help in this."

VX is many times more toxic than the sarin gas that killed 12 and injured 5,500 people when it was released in a Tokyo subway station in Japan.

sarin attack
VX is much more powerful than the sarin gas released in a Tokyo subway station in 1995  

Unlike sarin, VX isn't a poison gas. It has the consistency of motor oil. Tiny amounts, if inhaled or absorbed through the skin, can kill within minutes. VX attacks the nervous system, first causing sweating, drooling and a runny nose. Moments later, a person has convulsions and seizures. The nerve agent paralyzes the muscles of the victim, causing death.

Kay says exposure to VX can bring a swift and agonizing death.

"If it's inhaled as a vapor, (the victim) very quickly becomes what is called, crudely, a body flopper. You'll be on the ground with your arms and legs twitching unable to breathe. You will lose control of your stomach. It's not a very pleasant way to die."

U.S. Army soldiers are trained to protect themselves from VX and other nerve agents. An Army laboratory in Alabama makes the substance for use in training. The same chemicals used to make the weapon are also used in a variety of pesticides but in much lower concentrations.

Kay says the same equipment used to make life-saving drugs can also manufacture chemical weapons. He says a pharmaceutical plant is a perfect cover for making the chemical components of the weapon.

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