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How Do Chemical Weapons Smell?

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U.S. Army symbol for chemical weapons.

U.S. Army symbol for chemical weapons.

U.S. Army
Question: How Do Chemical Weapons Smell?
You may have a mental image of a chemical agent as some greenish vapor with a pungent, unpleasant smell. Are you surprised to learn most chemical agents are colorless and odorless? Many have characteristic odors, but some actually smell nice.
Answer: Many blister agents smell a bit like plants. Other agents may have pungent odors, yet most chemical weapons have no scent at all. Here's a list of some chemical agents and their... bouquets:
  • Sulfur Mustard - includes mustard gas, usually odorless and colorless in pure form but yellowish-brown with an odor reminiscent of the mustard plant, garlic, or horseradish when used in warfare
  • Chlorine Gas - pale greenish gas with a suffocating, unpleasant odor, similar to chlorine bleach
  • 3-quinuclidinyl benzilate (QNB or NATO BZ or Iraqi Agent 15) - odorless incapacitating agent
  • Lewisite - WWI blister agent that smells strongly of geraniums
  • Phosgene Oxime - blister agent with an irritating smell, though somewhat of mown hay or cut green corn
  • Sarin - extremely toxic odorless nerve agent
  • VX - probably the most toxic nerve agent, odorless
  • Soman - nerve gas that smells like Vicks VapoRub or rotting fruit, depending on who you ask
  • Tabun - highly toxic nerve agent with a faint fruity smell, though odorless when pure
  • Zyklon B - hydrogen cyanide-containing blood agent, famous for its use in Nazi death camps, which has a bitter almond odor (not everyone has the ability to smell it though)
  • Hydrogen Sulfide - blood agent that smells of rotten eggs
  • Adamsite or DM - odorless riot control agent that causes vomiting and sneezing
  • CS Gas - tear gas, odorless

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