How To Survive Blood Agent Exposure
The term blood agent sounds pretty scary, but the reality is that with a bit of knowledge, you can increase your odds of survival and decrease the amount of long-term damage to your body. Personal protective gear is essential to survival if you find yourself in a zone of moderate to high exposure to blood agents.
In this article, you will learn the most common blood agents, their history, where they are found, and what you can do to reduce the odds you will be exposed. We will dive into what to do if you are exposed and the odds that you will survive. With some blood agents, the unfortunate reality is that by the time you notice anything wrong, it is too late. Remember that does not mean that you cannot prevent yourself from being exposed in the first place if there are obvious signs that it might be a problem. Industrial fires, for example, often burn for days, and you might have plenty of notice to escape the danger zone.
Knowing just how dangerous an agent you are dealing with is crucial because it reduces the odds that you will not take a threat seriously. This may seem like a no-brainer, but the reality is that many people have died due to ignoring evacuation orders or not taking them seriously until the last minute.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What is a Blood Agent?
PPE for Blood Agents
What is a blood agent?
A blood agent is a chemical absorbed into the blood that produces a toxic reaction that results in the denial of oxygen to blood and organs.
Blood agents are hard or impossible to detect since they disperse rapidly at room temperature and often have no discernible color or odor. If the odor is detectable, it is only after toxicity levels are so high that survival is impossible unless you wear protective gear.
Image courtesy of The Harvard Gazette
What are the most common blood agents?
The most common blood agents are hydrogen cyanide and arsine, a form of arsenic. Other blood agents include carbon monoxide and sodium monofluoroacetate.
Why should I be concerned about blood agents?
Blood agents are concerning because they are tough to detect. While the likelihood of them being used against the public during wartime is not likely from a historical perspective, it is possible that rouge forces could use them for acts of terror.
Blood agents are not just something that is considered chemical weapons, either. Blood agents are used in industry and manufacturing applications as well. The most common blood agent is carbon monoxide which comes from the tailpipes of the vehicles we drive daily.
Industrial accidents and carbon monoxide poisoning are everyday threats in our daily lives. If you work in an industrial or manufacturing field, you need to be especially aware of chemical threats in your workplace. While employers may offer some basic training and materials, it always helps to learn a little more to be better prepared.
Familiarize yourself with the type of industry and manufacturing in your area.
Knowing what types of blood agents are being used in your area and if they are a concern is helpful. While this may seem complicated to find out, with a bit of research, you can learn what industry and manufacturing are within 10 miles of your home or business.
To fully understand these blood agents and how to protect yourself from them, you need to know in-depth information on each agent. Let's break down the basics about each agent to get a better understanding.
Hydrogen Cyanide is a colorless or pale blue liquid below 78°F (25.6°C) and a colorless gas above 78°F (25.6°C). While it is considered a chemical warfare agent, it is also used for industrial, agricultural, and manufacturing applications, including mining, chemical synthesis, electroplating, fumigation, and producing synthetic fibers, plastics, dyes, and pesticides.
Hydrogen Cyanide is hard for the average person to detect, but some people report that it has a bitter almond scent. The gas can be used to contaminate water and air sources. If released into the air as a liquid, it can settle on and contaminate food crops, and as a gas, it is unlikely to contaminate food.
When ingested, inhaled, or if there is skin or eye contact, hydrogen cyanide acts rapidly. The entire body is quickly affected, but the organs and systems most sensitive to lower oxygen levels are affected more rapidly.
The type of PPE required to operate in an area with hydrogen cyanide gas depends on the concentration levels. In most any case, a supply of clean oxygen is needed.
Since hydrogen cyanide is mainly used in an industrial setting, avoiding industrial areas, especially during economic or political unrest, is the main thing you can do to prevent exposure.
Even if you do not religiously follow news broadcasts, it doesn't hurt to check in occasionally so you are aware of any unfolding industrial accidents.
Hydrogen Cyanide is sometimes used to fumigate orchards, so avoiding areas where active agricultural spraying is occurring is advisable.
Get to fresh air as quickly as possible
Irrigate eyes thoroughly if there is any contact at all
Wash skin with soap and water if contact occurs
Seek medical attention just to be safe and determine the exposure level
Medical professionals sometimes use a Cyanide Antidote Kit. This kit (formerly known as the Lily Cyanide Kit and now produced by Taylor Pharmaceuticals) contains amyl nitrite, sodium nitrite, and sodium thiosulfate. If exposure is mild and the patient is breathing, then supplemental oxygen and IV fluids are given as a precautionary measure.
Arsine is a gas formed by the reaction of arsenic-containing substances with hydrogen in water or acids. Arsine is used in the manufacturing of semiconductors and computer chips.
Image courtesy of Vital Chem
Arsine was initially considered a chemical warfare agent; however, arsine blood agents have never been used on the battlefield despite being developed during WWI. The factors that saved troops from experiencing deadly arsine included an inability to disperse it effectively. Arsine is the most basic form of arsenic, a compound that more people are familiar with. Arsine gas is colorless and has an odor resembling garlic.
When arsine enters the bloodstream, it binds with hemoglobin and destroys red blood cells.
If Arsine is ever a problem, it will most likely result from an industrial accident. The use of proper protective gear and detection equipment can prevent most cases of poisoning from occurring. Arsine is hard to disperse, so even in an industrial accident, the gas may not pose a danger to a vast area.
It is critical that arsine poisoning be treated as quickly as possible. The longer the period between exposure and treatment, the less likely the treatment will be effective. As always, move the victim to fresh air.
Medical professionals have several treatment options for arsine poisoning. The first is to offer supplemental oxygen via a mask or, in severe cases, intubation. If poisoning is serious, a blood exchange transfusion may be done to improve red blood cell count and remove arsine from the body.
Carbon Monoxide is the most likely blood agent you will run into because there is just so much of it expelled due to combustion. Your car's exhaust, a propane grill or stove, etc., can create dangerous levels of carbon monoxide. Here are a few things you can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.
Image courtesy of National Capital Poison Center
Never use a gas grill inside.
An unfortunate number of poisonings and deaths are attributed to gas grills used inside for heat and cooking. During the blackouts in Texas during record-breaking cold temperatures a few years ago, people turned to alternative cooking methods. At least a few deaths occurred when families used grills inside.
Make sure you have a carbon monoxide detector in each living area.
Many of us have carbon monoxide detectors that tell us if levels become dangerous. These detectors are inexpensive and save lives. Consider what happens if levels become high and you and your family are asleep. Choose long-lasting batteries or have wired-in sensors installed. Hard-wired detectors have a battery backup that protects you during power outages.
Never leave a car running in a closed space for even a short length of time.
Car exhaust can fill a space up more quickly than you might think. Even leaving a car running for a minute in an enclosed area is terrible.
Ensure your exhaust pipe is not clogged with snow during climate weather.
If you have to go out in snowy conditions and there is a lot on the ground, always check your tailpipe to ensure it is not clogged with ice or snow. A blocked pipe can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning if someone sits in the car while idling. This is an occurrence that can happen when people get stranded on the highway during blizzards and hope to use their car's heating system or choose to run the car to keep the battery charged up. If caught in a blizzard, you may need to carefully get out of your vehicle and occasionally check your tailpipe for blockages.
Use Vented Heaters
During emergencies, many people use ventless kerosene or propane heaters for heat, and this can lead to a build-up of carbon monoxide. Suppose you occasionally let some fresh air in throughout the day and use a carbon monoxide detector. In that case, you can operate these types of heaters with a greater degree of safety. For regular daily use, install heaters vented to the outside whenever possible.
In some areas, farmers face a lot of losses due to burgeoning populations of coyotes. Sodium monofluoroacetate is used as a poison to control people, and in the past, it was used as a rodenticide. If other animals feed on food or treats laced with it, they usually become casualties before there is a chance of treatment.
Image courtesy of Chemistry World
In the United States, sodium monfluoroacetate is only legally allowed for use in collars worn by goats or sheep that are prone to attack by coyotes. The idea is that the coyote will bite or eat some of the collar during the attack.
In countries like New Zealand, signs are posted with the date and a warning to keep children and pets out of the area when the bait is thrown out.
In the USA, it is relatively easy to avoid this blood agent because it is only allowed for use on livestock collars. As long as no animal is eaten that has consumed livestock, there is little risk.
If you live in a country where bait is used, you must be aware of posted areas to know when the bait is placed. All animals, children, pets, etc., should be kept in a contained area and not allowed to roam. Pets may become poisoned by eating either animals that have consumed poison or consuming any of their excrement. Very little can be done to treat poisoning, especially since it is likely too late when a problem is noticed.
Phosgene is a colorless gas used as a chemical warfare agent for the industrial production of polycarbonate and polyurethane plastics. Phosgene smells like fresh-cut grass when smelled in high concentration. Unfortunately, the concentration has to be so high that it might as well be odorless. If you smelled phosgene, that would mean that the concentration level is already more than four times the lethal dose. During WWI, it was used as a chemical agent for trench warfare. Since it is such a heavy gas and sinks, it was effective for filling trenches with toxic fumes. Its use during WWI contributed to 85,000 deaths. When the French used it in 1915, they mixed it with chlorine gas to help it disperse.
Although small amounts of phosgene are produced when compounds like chloroform break down, almost all of it is synthesized. Pure carbon dioxide and chlorine gas are passed through a bed of activated carbon to produce phosgene gas for industrial applications.
Phosgene poisoning symptoms can kill within hours or take several days, depending on various factors, including exposure level and the victim's prior health. It is essential to seek treatment for Phosgene exposure as quickly as possible. If more than 2 or 3 hours elapse between exposure and treatment, edema can appear, and nothing can be done.
In an industrial setting, indicator badges are often worn so that those working with phosgene are alerted regularly if they are exposed at a level that means they need to remove themselves from the industrial environment and seek medical attention. Continuous low-level exposure may not have immediate effects but may lead to chronic respiratory problems over time.
Treatment options for Phosgene exposure require professional medical intervention. Phosgene reacts in the pulmonary alveoli resulting in pulmonary edema. One of the biggest dangers of phosgene is that these symptoms can take hours to days to appear, so at that point, there is already enough damage that death is more likely.
If exposed to phosgene in low to moderate amounts, monitoring and preventive therapy are administered. If things look ok, patients can be released relatively quickly.
PPE for Blood Agents
Suppose you have some warning or suspicion that you may be exposed to blood agents or need protection while getting to a safer location. In that case, putting on the right personal protective gear as quickly as possible is best. A high-quality full-face respirator with appropriate CBRN filters can offer protection from blood agents.
CM-6M or CM-7M Gas Masks
The MIRA Safety CM-6M and CM-7M full-face gas masks are highly recommended against blood agents when combined with 1-2 NBC-77 SOF CBRN filters. For even easier breathing, blend your favorite MIRA Safety mask with the MB-90 PAPR.
The importance of a good seal cannot be stressed enough. When wearing a full-face respirator for protection against deadly agents, it is critical that you take steps to make sure you get a total seal. Even a small leak over time can make the difference between life and death.
You should keep facial hair as short as possible.You may be able to get away with wearing a mustache, but a full beard is not compatible with wearing a gas mask. There is no way to ensure a good seal with any facial hair that comes into contact with the outside edges of your gas mask.
Never wear a full-face gas mask with glasses. The edges of glasses frames interfere with your seal. MIRA Safety developed the MIRAVISION Spectacle Kit for those needing glasses who want the protection that a full-face respirator offers. The MIRAVISION Spectacle Kit works with all MIRA full-face gas masks. Enter your prescription details, and your kit will be custom ordered and delivered.
The other option is to wear contact lenses, which can be problematic during an extended emergency.
Be sure that you have a suitable size mask for each family member.
Children need a gas mask that is suited for their age and size. Young children do not have the lung capacity to safely wear a gas mask that doesn't have a PAPR unit attached. A PAPR is a personal air-powered respirator. The MIRA Safety CM-3 offers a gas mask solution for kids and younger teens. For more information on how to tell what mask your child can wear, check out "The Best Gas Mask For Kids (2022 Edition)" by Matt Collins.
PAPR Unit for Adults
Most good quality respirators, such as the MIRA Safety CM-6M or CM-7M, can be used with a PAPR unit for better airflow during a CBRN event. Those with compromised respiratory systems may find that they can easily wear a regular gas mask as long as they wear it in conjunction with a PAPR unit. The MIRA Safety MB-90 provides up to 90/L a minute of airflow so you can breathe easily, even while performing more strenuous physical activities.
A MIRA Safety HAZ-SUIT will provide complete protection over most of your body. This is very important when dealing with anything that can be absorbed through the skin or irritate the skin in any way. The MIRA Safety Haz Suit is sewn in the USA. It is rated to withstand toxic threats for up to 8 hours of continuous exposure to radioactive and other highly poisonous products. The suits come in various sizes, including youth, to accommodate younger family members.
It is used to create a complete seal at cuffs or boot tops. ChemTape is highly recommended for extremely hazardous conditions to ensure small amounts of contamination do not make it to your skin or respiratory system. One roll is enough tape to seal Haz Suits for a small group. Kappler ChemTape is lab tested to hold up to nerve, sarin, and mustard gas for at least 8 hours.
Chemical-resistant boots worn over your regular footwear are standard for Haz Mat situations. MIRA Safety is proud to offer 100% Butyl Over boots rated to withstand at least 24 hours of low-level exposure to CBRN agents. The rugged sole provides good traction when navigating through contaminated areas
Chemical Resistant Butyl Gloves
Disposable gloves are in your protective gear kit, but they are not rated to withstand the corrosive and harsh conditions that some situations present. MIRA Safety Butyl Gloves are rated to withstand at least 24 hours against vapor threats. A cotton inner liner makes the gloves comfortable for long periods, and the long length ensures total coverage. Combine with Chem Tape and a HazMat suit for ultimate protection from chemical agents.
MIRA Safety MDG-1 Personal CBRN Decontamination Glove
The MIRA Safety MDG-1 Decontamination Glove can help remove chemical, biological, and nuclear residues from your skin. Just rub an area of your body for 90% decontamination within minutes.
While some blood agents are more toxic than others, many factors determine how damaging exposure is to your health and body. The higher the chemical concentration, length of exposure, pre-existing health conditions, and how much protection is provided by clothing and gear. With any blood agent, seeking professional medical attention as quickly as possible is a good idea to minimize damage and decrease recovery time.
That being said, damage to the lungs and other organs may lead to long-term health effects that decrease the ability to do some things and may also cause a reduced life expectancy.
Carbon Monoxide, the most common blood agent, can lead to permanent brain and heart damage. Victims are monitored for weeks after recovery begins if the damage is significant and they need further treatment.
A blood agent can lead to lead in a matter of minutes to 3-4 days, depending on the agent and the extent of exposure. For example, in some cases, phosgene can take a day or more for the effects of the gas to start manifesting. Cyanide gas can cause convulsions 30 seconds after exposure and death in 6-10 minutes if someone is exposed to a high concentration. Carbon Monoxide poisoning can lead to an end quickly, depending on the concentration.
Carbon monoxide is the most common blood agent the average person will experience. Keeping carbon monoxide detectors in the home is one of the easiest ways to prevent poisoning from the incomplete combustion of fuel within the home.
Beyond carbon monoxide, other common blood agents are used in specific industries, meaning that unless there is an industrial accident, you have to work in an environment that uses these chemicals (or an act of terrorism nearby.)
In today's uncertain times, there is a high risk of terrorism or warfare where all the normal rules are ignored. Military troops should always be prepared for the possibility of a blood agent being used even though they are banned. While we like to pretend there are rules when it comes to war, the reality is that when push comes to shove, the rules go out the door. At the same time, chemical agents are harder to disperse than one might initially think, making them less likely to be used by a political or government entity on a large scale.