- What are nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX?
- What happens to nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX when they enter the environment?
- How might I be exposed to nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX?
- How can nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX affect my health?
- How likely are nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX to cause cancer?
- How can nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX affect children?
- How can families reduce the risk of exposure to nerve agents GA, GB, GD and VX?
- Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX?
- Has the federal government made recommendations to protect human health?
- Where can I get more information?
ToxFAQsTM for Nerve Agents (GA, GB, GD, VX)
Spanish: Agentes que Afectan los Nervios (GA, GB, GD, VX)
CAS#: Tabun (GA) 77-81-6; Sarin (GB) 107-44-8; Soman (GD) 96-64-0; VX 50782-69-9
PDF Versionpdf icon[161 KB]
This fact sheet answers the most frequently asked health questions about nerve agents. For more information, call the ATSDR Information Center at 1-800-232-4636. This fact sheet is one in a series of summaries about hazardous substances and their health effects. It is important you understand this information because this substance may harm you. The effects of exposure to any hazardous substance depend on the dose, the duration, how you are exposed, personal traits and habits, and whether other chemicals are present.
Exposure to nerve agents can occur due to accidental release from a military storage facility. Nerve agents are highly toxic regardless of the route of exposure. Exposure to nerve agents can cause tightness of the chest, excessive salivation, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, blurred vision, tremors, and death. Nerve agents (GA, GB, GD, VX) have been identified at 5 of the 1,585 National Priorities List sites identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
What are nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX?
Nerve agents GA (tabun), GB (sarin),
GD (soman), and VX are manufactured compounds. The G-type
agents are clear, colorless, tasteless liquids miscible in
water and most organic solvents. GB is odorless and is the
most volatile nerve agent. GA has a slightly fruity odor,
and GD has a slight camphor-like odor. VX is a clear, amber-colored
odorless, oily liquid. It is miscible with water and dissolves
in all solvents. VX is the least volatile nerve agent.
Most of the nerve agents were originally
produced in a search for insecticides, but because of their
toxicity, they were evaluated for military use. Nerve agents
have been used in wars and by terrorists. They are known to
be stored by several nations, including the United States.
What happens to nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX when they enter the environment?
- Nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX could enter the environment
from an accidental release.
- When released to air, GA, GB, GD, and VX will be broken
down by compounds that are found in the air, but they may
persist in air for a few days before being broken down.
- GA, GB, GD, and VX will be broken down in water quickly,
but small amounts may evaporate.
- GA, GB, GD, and VX will be broken down in moist soil quickly.
Small amounts may evaporate into air or travel below the
soil surface and contaminate groundwater.
- GA, GB, GD, and VX do not accumulate in the food chain.
How might I be exposed to nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX?
- The United States no longer produces nerve agents GA,
GB, GD, and VX.
- The general population will not be exposed to nerve agents
GA, GB, GD, or VX unless there is an accidental release
from a military storage facility.
- People who work at military sites where these compounds
are stored may be potentially exposed to nerve agents GA,
GB, GD, and VX.
How can nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX affect my health?
Even in very small amounts, nerve agents
are highly toxic if you inhale or swallow them, or if they
come in contact with your skin or eyes. In general, the manifestation
of toxic effects is faster if you inhale or swallow nerve
agents than if they contact your skin. The initial effects
also depend on the amount you are exposed to. The onset of
mild to moderate effects after dermal exposure may be delayed
for as long as 18 hours.
Regardless of the route of exposure,
the manifestation of nerve agent exposure includes runny nose,
chest tightness, pinpoint pupils, shortness of breath, excessive
salivation and sweating, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps,
involuntary defecation and urination, muscle twitching, confusion,
seizures, paralysis, coma, respiratory paralysis, and death.
Incapacitating effects occur within 1 to 10 minutes and fatal
effects can occur within 1 to 10 minutes for GA, GB, and GD,
and within 4 to 18 hours for VX.
Fatigue, irritability, nervousness, and
memory defects may persist for as long as 6 weeks after recovery
from an exposure episode.
We do not know if exposure to the nerve
agents GA, GB, GD, or VX might result in reproductive effects
How likely are nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX to cause cancer?
The Department of Heath and Human Services
(DHHS), the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC),
and the EPA have not classified GA, GB, GD, and VX as to their
carcinogenicity to humans. Limited data in animals indicate
that nerve agents are not likely to be carcinogenic.
How can nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX affect children?
Children exposed to nerve agents are
likely to experience the same toxic effects experienced by
exposed adults. We do not know whether children differ from
adults in their susceptibility to nerve agents.
We do not know if exposure to the nerve
agents GA, GB, GD, or VX might result in developmental effects
How can families reduce the risk of exposure to nerve agents GA, GB, GD and VX?
It is unlikely that the general population
will be exposed to nerve agents.
Is there a medical test to show whether I've been exposed to nerve agents GA, GB, GD, and VX?
There are medical tests available to
determine whether you have been exposed to nerve agents. There
are tests to measure degradation products of nerve agents
in the urine, but are not generally useful. A different kind
of test measures the levels of a substance called cholinesterase
in the blood. If these levels are less than half what they
should be, and you were exposed to nerve gases, you may get
symptoms of poisoning. Cholinesterase levels in the blood
can stay low for months after you have been exposed to nerve
agents. Measurement of cholinesterase levels in blood is not
specific for exposure to nerve agents.
Has the federal government made recommendations to
protect human health?
An Airborne Exposure Limit (as recommended
by the Surgeon General's Working Group, U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services) of 0.003 micrograms of GA, GB,
GD, or VX per cubic meter of air (0.003 ì g/m3) has been
established as a time-weighted average (TWA) for the workplace.
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease
Registry (ATSDR). 2002. Managing Hazardous Materials Incidents.
Volume III — Medical Management Guidelines for Acute
Chemical Exposures: Nerve Agents
(GA, GB, GD, VX). Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health
and Human Services, Public Health Service.
Where can I get more information?
If you have questions or concerns, please contact your community or state health or environmental quality department or:
For more information, contact:
Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Office of Innovation and Analytics, Toxicology Section
4770 Buford Highway
Chamblee, GA 30341-3717
Phone: 1-800-CDC-INFO 888-232-6348 (TTY)
Email: Contact CDC-INFO
ATSDR can also tell you the location of occupational and environmental health clinics. These clinics specialize in recognizing, evaluating, and treating illnesses resulting from exposure to hazardous substances.