Top 4 Common CBRN Threats You May Encounter
While there are a wide variety of chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear (also known as CBRN) threats in the world today—nuclear ICBMs, for instance—some are more common than others. Without adequate protection, exposure to these threats can result in severe illness, harm, or even death. The modern world is filled with modern threats, and people need the best possible protection.
For a comprehensive overview of the deadliest chemical warfare agents used today, be sure to check out our guide here.
So, what are the most common CBRN threats that one is likely to encounter going about day-to-day life? Let’s take a look …
TABLE OF CONTENTS
CS GAS AND RIOTS GO HAND-IN-HAND
CARBON MONOXIDE—THE SILENT KILLER
COULD YOU SURVIVE A CHLORINE GAS LEAK?
PANDEMIC PREPAREDNESS 101
YOU PROTECT YOURSELF AGAINST OTHER COMMON THREATS. WHY NOT CBRN?
CS Gas and Riots Go Hand-in-Hand
CS gas, also known as tear gas, is technically considered a chemical weapon. The Geneva Convention and the 1993 International Chemical Weapons Convention ban its use during warfare. However, the Geneva Convention doesn’t say anything about using tear gas in domestic disturbances, and a series of executive decisions have decreed that it is perfectly acceptable to use CS against civilians. As a result, CS is widely used by police forces worldwide.
Known as a riot-control agent (RCA), CS gas commonly comes in the form of a grenade that is thrown or shot into crowds. New experimental technology enables drones to disperse CS gas over crowds, so this dispersal method is likely to be used in the near future.
What can CS do to you?
While CS may not be among the deadliest of CBRN threats, enough exposure will prove hazardous to one's health. CS gas irritates any part of the human body it comes into contact with. The skin, eyes, lungs, mouth, and nasal passages are all susceptible to its effects. Thus, difficulty swallowing, drooling, blurred vision, wheezing, shortness of breath, nausea, vomiting, chest tightness, and difficulty breathing are all common signs and symptoms of CS poisoning.
Soldier exposed to tear gas.
(Image source: Image Courtesy of Wikimedia))
Acute symptoms tend to abate within 15–30 minutes after one is removed from the source of exposure, and it is widely believed that this is the extent of the damage. Unfortunately, epidemiological studies seem to suggest otherwise.
For starters, little is known about prolonged exposure to CS gas. Most studies that have “proved” that CS gas is safe were conducted on animals or with such a small sample size that the results are statistically unreliable. Also, human trial studies of CS gas almost exclusively use military-age males with no prior health conditions. The effects on the elderly, children, women, or pregnancies are not considered.
We do know, though, that a number of studies show severe negative health consequences of exposure to CS gas.
For example, blindness, cataracts, and glaucoma are all reported consequences of long-term exposure to CS gas. Regarding the lungs, studies link the development of asthma, respiratory failure, chronic bronchitis, increased risk of lung infections, and increased risk of influenza to exposure to CS gas. Miscarriages have been tied to CS gas exposure, as have cardiac complications. Women seem to be more susceptible to its effects than men, and numerous fatalities have been reported from CS poisoning as well.
Image of tear gas at a protest.
(Image source: Image Courtesy of Wikimedia))
Many of the “short-term” effects of CS gas exposure—such as difficulty breathing, chest pain, runny nose, and coughing up blood—have all been reported weeks after exposure. Studies show that CS lingers in the environment it is released in. After CS gas is released in an area, respiratory problems increase, even among those who weren’t directly exposed to the gas cloud. This seems to indicate that CS can linger on surfaces for quite some time.
Tear gas is not the benign threat you may believe it to be. CS gas is a true health threat and something you should protect yourself from. This is particularly relevant if you live in an urban area.
Even if you have no intention of joining a crowd anytime in the near future, all it takes is being in the wrong place at the wrong time to be exposed to CS and the negative consequences associated with it.
How do you protect yourself against CS?
If you can’t evacuate from the scene before the CS gas reaches you (the best protection), your next best defense is wearing a proper CBRN gas mask (such as the MIRA Safety CM-6M) with a filter rated for riot control agents and keeping your skin covered. The full face covering and high-grade bromobutyl rubber of the CM-6M will ensure your face, eyes, and lungs are completely shielded from the gas. The panoramic visor also allows the user to have an unobstructed field of view for navigating out of the danger zone.
For a thorough breakdown of the Best Gas Masks on the market, check out our Gas Mask Buyer's Guide.
(Image Courtesy of Italian Prepper)
Blistering, itching, stinging, vesicular eruptions, and inflamed patches of skin are all associated with CS exposure. Therefore, you need to ensure that your skin is protected. Any exposed skin will be affected by the gas cloud.
Police forces function in CS gas all the time, and the only protection they wear is a gas mask (with a properly rated filter attached) and clothing that covers as much skin as possible. Doing the same is prudent if you have a reason to expect CS exposure. While a HAZMAT suit would likely be overkill, you want to keep your skin protected.
Without the right filter, a gas mask is useless. Something like the MIRA Safety P-CAN filter, which is specifically rated to stop CS, CN, and OC riot control agents, is ideal. For a full walkthrough on the best filter's in the market, read our Gas Mask Filter Buyer's Guide.
Police standing in CS cloud
(Image Courtesy of Pixabay)
What to do if you’re exposed to CS
If exposed to CS gas, immediately seek fresh air. As CS is typically fired into crowds, the further from the crowd you can get, the better off you’re likely to be. It’s absolutely imperative to get out of a building CS has been released in. Many of the most serious injuries from CS gas result from being in closed quarters with the gas because it severely limits the available oxygen.
CS sticks low to the ground, so the higher up you can get, the less your risk of exposure
Next, rinse your eyes with water for 15–30 minutes.
If CS gas is in your lungs, it’s on your clothes as well. CS gas sticks to clothes, so clothing needs to be removed and, ideally, thrown away. However, do not pull your shirt off over your head. Doing so will only get CS on your face.
Instead, cut the shirt off. A sturdy pair of medical shears will do the job. Then, shower with soap and water to get the CS off your skin. If you wear contacts, take them out and throw them away. If you wear glasses, wash them before putting them back on. There is currently no antidote to CS gas poisoning, but by taking these simple steps, you can mitigate its effects as much as possible.
Carbon Monoxide: The Silent Killer
A silent killer, carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless and tasteless gas that typically results from the combustion of fuel. Vehicle exhaust systems, clogged fireplaces, propane/kerosene heaters, or an engine running indoors can lead to deadly CO buildup.
As with any dangerous agent, children, babies, the elderly, and those with preexisting medical conditions are at the greatest risk. Prolonged exposure to CO gas can cause brain damage, with senior citizens at especially high risk. In addition, it elevates the risk of miscarriage, and those with chronic diseases are at even greater risk of permanent/serious damage.
What can carbon monoxide do to you?
In short, carbon monoxide suffocates you. It binds to the sites on red blood cells where oxygen typically binds, and the bond is 300x stronger than that of oxygen. Thus, the needed oxygen can’t be transported to the cells of the body.
The signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, nausea, weakness, exhaustion, dizziness, confusion, fast breathing, blurred vision, and eventually, passing out.
Once someone passes out, they typically die of carbon monoxide poisoning. Those in altered states of consciousness, such as being drunk or in a deep sleep, will succumb to this gas if they are not removed from the scene in time as they are unlikely to wake up.
Depending on how long the victim is without oxygen, permanent brain and heart damage can result.
How do you protect against carbon monoxide?
The best way to protect against carbon monoxide is to ensure that it can’t build up in your home to begin with. Regularly cleaning chimneys, opening garage doors before starting cars, and not operating propane heaters inside tents are all ways to avoid the dangerous build-up of this gas.
Carbon monoxide detectors are vital as well. These devices typically cost around $20, can be found at stores everywhere, and work by simply plugging into a socket. If they detect the presence of carbon monoxide gas, they let out an ear-piercing shriek.
When it comes to personal protective equipment, there is no easy, all-inclusive solution to protect against carbon monoxide. Gas masks typically require at least 19.5% oxygen in the atmosphere to function properly. If enough oxygen is displaced by CO, a gas mask is no longer effective.
The best possible gear to counter CO gas is a full-fledged self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), a device often used by firefighters. However, this gear is cost-prohibitive for the vast majority of civilians and not something one can deploy at a moment’s notice.
(Image source: Image Courtesy of Gunspot)
However, masks and filters still have their place. Many carbon monoxide exposure incidents are the result of smoke and fire emergencies such as house fires. With proper warning devices, one can quickly strap on a half-face respirator with a filter capable of stopping the toxic fumes that result from objects burning. For these situations, the MIRA Safety TAPR Half-Face Respirator combined with an NBC-17 filter or a CM-6M with an NBC-77 SOF Filter are ideal choices. Keep in mind, PPE gear should be treated as an escape and evasion tool, so the priority is always exiting the immediate area.
Thankfully, most people experience a full recovery without any lasting deleterious effects if they’re removed from the carbon monoxide quickly enough.
What to do if you’re exposed to carbon monoxide
You’ll only know you’re exposed to carbon monoxide if a carbon monoxide alarm goes off or if you notice the symptoms (stated above). In either case, the best course of action is to get outside for fresh air as quickly as possible.
Could You Survive a Chlorine Gas Leak?
Chlorine gas was the first form of chemical warfare in modern history, during the Battle of Ypres in World War I. Despite chemical agents being prohibited as weapons of war under the Geneva Convention, numerous violations have occurred and many nations continue to stockpile chemical weapons.
While there’s always a chance that the area you live in could be hit by a deliberate attack of this nature, you’re much more likely to be affected by an accidental release of chlorine through a much more innocuous means: swimming pool chemicals.
Numerous gas leaks caused by swimming pool chemicals have resulted in the release of poisonous clouds of chlorine that have sent people to the hospital.
In March 2022, a chlorine gas cloud was accidentally released at the London Olympic Park swimming pool. Two hundred people were evacuated, nine were taken to the hospital, and people were treated for breathing difficulties. The release was attributed to a chemical reaction.
In 2020, a Louisiana factory that specialized in making swimming pool chemicals caught on fire. Because of fears of a chlorine gas cloud being released, the entire region was told to shelter inside with doors and windows shut.
A similar event happened in Nevada in 1991 after a factory producing swimming pool chemicals experienced a chlorine gas leak that was reported at 2:30 AM. A city of 70,000 people was shut down for an entire day as a result.
It’s also worth noting that many factories that produce chlorine gas use the notoriously vulnerable SCADA systems. These systems are well known for their ability to be hacked from afar. There have been numerous instances of hackers gaining access to water treatment facilities and adding dangerous levels of poisonous chemicals to municipal water supplies. The same could easily be accomplished to release clouds of chlorine gas.
The FBI recently stated that hacker groups are conducting reconnaissance operations of American cyber-infrastructure, with the intent of hacking the systems in the very near future.
The possibility of a chlorine gas release—accidental or otherwise—is not a far-fetched notion.
Poison gas attack
(Image Courtesy of Wikimedia)
What can chlorine gas do to you?
Chlorine gas is an irritant that causes burning of the respiratory passages, blindness, nausea/vomiting, coughing, a violent headache, and sharp, stabbing chest pain. The damage to the respiratory passages causes fluid to fill the lungs, and the victim eventually drowns on their own bodily fluids.
Man succumbing to poison gas
(Image Courtesy of Wikimedia)
World War I soldier Anthony Hossack described the results of the first chlorine gas attack in history at Ypres as follows:
“One man came stumbling through our lines. An officer of ours held him up with leveled revolver, ‘What’s the matter, you bloody lot of cowards?’ says he. The Zouave was frothing at the mouth, his eyes started from their sockets, and he fell writhing at the officer’s feet.”
Unless one takes quick action to get away from chlorine gas, they will meet with a similar traumatic end.
How do you protect against chlorine gas?
Chlorine gas is heavier than air, so it concentrates close to the ground. The more elevation you can gain, the safer you’ll be from a chlorine gas cloud. During World War I, it wasn’t uncommon for chlorine gas clouds to reach 30 feet above the ground. It makes sense then that one would be able to find protection by climbing as high as possible - perhaps up a mountain, skyscraper, or hillside.
The most important thing to do to protect yourself against chlorine gas—if escape is not possible beforehand—is to own a gas mask. Chlorine gas attacks the body’s mucous membranes by causing acid burns when it comes into contact with them. That’s why it’s so damaging to the eyes and respiratory passages.
(Image Courtesy of Italian Prepper)
However, as was learned in World War I, if one has a full-face gas mask nearby, such as the MIRA Safety CM-7M with an NBC-77 filter, and can get it sealed around the face in time, the user can be safe from chlorine gas. This was the reason that other, more lethal gases were developed and released later in the war. Simply put, gas masks rendered chlorine largely ineffective
What to do if you’re exposed to chlorine gas
If you’re exposed to chlorine gas and unable to use a gas mask, the first course of action is to quickly remove yourself from the area and seek medical care.
Chlorine can stick to clothing, so it’s important to remove all clothing and wash the body as soon as possible. Do not pull clothing over your head, as this could bring the CBRN agent into contact with your face. Instead, cut the clothing off and throw it away.
It is likely that breathing difficulties will commence as the gas hits the lungs. Though there is no known antidote to chlorine gas poisoning, medical professionals can provide treatment to help the lungs recover and alleviate wheezing.
Although the Nazis pioneered the development of nerve agents during World War II, they never used them on the battlefield, out of fear of retributive gas strikes and because Hitler was the victim of a gas attack in World War I.
Pandemic Preparedness 101
The threat of contagious diseases becoming pandemic has been a constant throughout human history. Smallpox, the Black Death, and polio are just some examples of diseases that have spread widely, leaving mass death in their wake.
And while a pandemic is certainly a real-world concern, especially given the current state of COVID-19, we shouldn’t underestimate the dangers of biological weapons. Within the past 100 years, these have truly taken a front seat in warfare, as militaries throughout the world have created their own biological weapons facilities.
In World War II, the Empire of Japan dropped bubonic plague–infected fleas over China.
Also in WWII, the US Navy conducted bioweapons research at Horn Island in the Pacific Ocean.
A North Korean defector was found with anthrax antibodies in his blood in 2017. This occurred at the same time that Japan notified the US that North Korea had ICBMs capable of being armed with anthrax warheads that could hit the United States.
In early 2022, vials labeled with smallpox were found in a freezer at a Philadelphia Merck facility by an employee who was cleaning. Smallpox is only supposed to be in two locations in the world: the CDC in Atlanta and in Vektor in Siberia.
The Department of Health and Human Services has announced that they’re now purchasing a new smallpox drug (Tembexa) and that $113 million worth of TPOXX—another smallpox drug—was purchased by the US government in the fourth quarter of 2021 alone.
Colin Powell holding a vial of anthrax
(Image Courtesy of Wikimedia)
Once created, weapons are rarely left unused, and despite the long-term “official” distaste for biological warfare, there is a solid chance that it will be used extensively at some point in the future.
What can bioweapons and pandemic diseases do to you?
It depends on the agent that has been deployed.
According to the American Public Health Association, some of the bioweapons that are most likely to be used are anthrax, brucellosis, glanders, melioidosis, tularemia, plague, Q fever, typhus, coccidioidomycosis, SARS, viral hemorrhagic fevers, Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis, smallpox, staphylococcal enterotoxins, and botulinal neurotoxins.
How each of these diseases plays out is as varied as their names. Inevitably though, they all cause protracted suffering over a number of hours to days until the disease is successfully defeated by the body or death occurs.
Widened mediastinum as a result of inhalational anthrax
(Image Courtesy of Wikimedia)
How do you protect against biological weapons and pandemic diseases?
The best protection against a biological weapon or pandemic disease is prevention. The ability to shelter in place as a contagious disease spreads is also paramount. Keeping an emergency supply of food, water, and other daily essentials is critical to staying away from sources of infection as the disease runs its course.
Regular hand washing, avoiding those who are ill, not touching one’s face, and protecting one’s respiratory system are also vital. However, contagious diseases can also be transmitted via the eyes, so eye protection is vital.
A full-face gas mask, such as our CM-6M with a ParticleMax P3 Virus Filter, excels at this. The ParticleMax uses advanced ULPA filtration technology that can filter particulates down to 0.2 microns, an even greater degree than N95 masks.
Depending on the proximity of the potential sources of infection, you may want to consider wearing a HAZ-SUIT as well. This impermeable tear-resistant, full-bodied suit is more than enough to protect your skin from coming in contact with bacteria, viruses, and diseases. If you carry a gun on a daily basis because you understand that the individual is first and foremost responsible for their own protection, why not do the same by owning a gas mask? In a world filled with biological weapons, is this idea too far-fetched?
What should you do if you’re exposed to a bioweapon or disease?
The response to exposure to a biological weapon or pandemic disease varies according to what one has come into contact with. For example, after the anthrax envelopes of 2001, doxycycline or ciprofloxacin (a common antibiotic often referred to as “Cipro”) was given to thousands of Americans. This response varied wildly from the typical response to Ebola.
After exposure to anthrax or other dangerous diseases, vaccinations have been offered to those who may have been exposed. Sometimes, if given quickly enough, this can prevent or diminish symptoms. For example, after anthrax was released in the Russian city of Sverdlovsk in 1979, a live-spore vaccine called STI was given to people throughout the area to offer some level of protection.
Ken Alibek, Soviet defector and one of the main men behind the bioweapons program at Biopreparat.
(Image Courtesy of Wikimedia)
However, diseases have what is referred to as an “incubation period”. This is how long it takes the disease to reproduce within the body and symptoms to show themselves. Typically, the incubation period is a number of days, but it can be as long as a few weeks before the first telltale signs of infection appear.
That’s why it’s critically important to seek professional medical care as soon as possible, even if only because of a slight suspicion of exposure. Doing so can dramatically increase one’s chances of survival.
You protect yourself against other common threats. Why not CBRN as well?
Every day, people wear seat belts to prevent injuries in car crashes, buy insurance to protect their finances from personal disasters, and carry weapons to protect themselves against criminals. Protection is a normalized concept as old as humanity itself. So, why not apply the same principle to CBRN threats?
As history has proven, a number of CBRN threats are incredibly common worldwide, and they deserve our respect. These problems cannot simply be ignored. They must be dealt with, and having proper CBRN protective gear is a must for doing so.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
This boils down to use case and convenience. If at all doable, it is highly recommended to use a full face gas mask. However, certain circumstances may not allow for the use of one. In an everyday carry role, a half-face respirator is much more compact and easily accessible in a bag or pouch. If your threats are primarily respiratory in nature such as viruses, asbestos, dust, metal vapors, etc. then a half-face respirator combined with a pair of full seal goggles are more than sufficient to protect you
Other viral threats may not affect the eyes, as long as one doesn’t touch contaminated surfaces and then touch their eyes.
A half-face respirator with a properly rated filter will protect one’s airways from CS gas, but it will not protect one’s eyes. CS causes people’s eyes to burn and their vision to become blurry. While the use of full seal goggles is certainly better than nothing, it is not a sufficient long term solution against gases. A half-face respirator will typically only half protect you from CS gas.
A full-face gas mask and a properly rated filter are needed for full protection in CS-filled environments.
Using one’s senses is the first means of detecting a CBRN threat. If you see a green-yellow gas cloud, that’s one of the best indicators that a chemical agent is incoming. Sight and smell are paramount here. If something seems to be a CBRN threat, there’s a good chance that it is.
The second means of detection is the various detectors available on the market. Carbon monoxide detectors are a great example. Similarly, Geiger counters can alert one to the presence of radioactive threats.
Finally, one should have a means to gather information from official sources. TV, radio, and Internet access all provide notification should there be some form of CBRN threat incoming.
It depends on the type of threat that one will be facing. Sometimes, a gas mask is enough against viruses or certain chemical agents like chlorine gas. Other times, such as the deployment of a bioweapon or blistering agents, a HAZMAT suit will be necessary to stay safe.
The best option is to have something and not need it, rather than to need it and not have it.