By Kunlere Idowu
It is no longer news that North Korea’s once heir apparent, Kim Jong Nam was murdered at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia on February 13 by hired killers suspected to have acted on the orders of his half brother and North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un and that the chemical agent said to have been responsible for his gruesome murder was VX. But what kind of chemical agent is VX?
Here are eight things we know.
- VX belongs to a group of chemicals called organophosphates (which are commonly used as insecticides). Its full name is (O-ethyl S-[2-diisoproylaminoethyl] methylphsophonothioate). VX is a very deadly man-made substance.
- British scientists were said to have developed VX nerve agent during a research on insecticides in 1952. This information was purportedly traded with the US in 1953 for information sharing on thermonuclear weapons which the US had at the time. Decades later during the Cold war, the Soviet Union would stumble on information about VX. Today, organophosphates are a major group of pesticides (e.g. commercial insecticides) and are also used in ophthalmology to treat glaucoma, with potential impacts on the environment.
- Although there are no official records of VX being used on a large scale or as a weapon in conventional warfare, the Iraqi government reportedly admitted to manufacturing VX during the 1990s with some suggesting, although without evidence, that the formula for its production was passed to it through clandestine Soviet links.
- VX is a clear, odorless, and tasteless liquid. Exposure to a small amount of VX, (say about 10 mg) absorbed through the skin or eyes is fatal and could result in death under an hour.
- VX is a nerve gas which kills by binding to a very important enzyme cholinesterase leading to its inactivation within minutes. Cholinesterase is an important enzyme in neurotransmission but the binding of VX to it results in chemical signals being uncontrollably transmitted between nerve cells.
- Symptoms of VX poisoning include constriction of the pupils, headache, runny nose, nasal congestion, chest tightness, giddiness, anxiety, nausea, gradual progression into convulsions, paralysis, respiratory failure and death. Because of its extreme toxicity and swift mode of action, VX is considered a weapon of mass destruction.
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- If VX exposure to the eyes occurs, the affected eyes should be flushed with water for about 15 minutes. Contact with the skin can alao be treated using soap and water, 10% sodium carbonate (Na2CO3) solution or 5% bleach solution. VX poisoning can be treated immediately with two antidotes: atropine and pralidoxome chloride which can be administered by injection. Reports say U.S. medics and military personnel carried kits with VX antidote on the battlefield during the Iraq war in case they were exposed to the chemical weapon.
- Due to it extremely toxicity, high adhesive properties, low volatility and slow dissipation, should contamination occur in a public place, it could take days or even weeks for it to completely evaporate. Hence, the need for such affected public areas to be quickly and thoroughly decontaminated.
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