TechRussia escalates chemical warfare with intensified use of lewisite

Russia escalates chemical warfare with intensified use of lewisite

K-51 grenade with chloropicrin - illustrative photo
K-51 grenade with chloropicrin - illustrative photo
Images source: © Licensor
Norbert Garbarek

17 June 2024 17:47

The Ukrainian agency Unian notes that the Russians are taking "a new step towards escalating the conflict." They have started using a combat poison—more precisely, lewisite, a substance that poisons soldiers and causes skin irritations.

– The Russians are increasingly using lewisite, reports Unian. Although this is not the first noted use of this poisonous agent, the Russian Federation army has intensified attacks involving this poison. The first reports regarding the use of this type of chemical weapon appeared in July 2023. At that time, the aggressor’s army was reportedly hitting Ukrainian positions around Bakhmut with lewisite.

Earlier, the Russian Federation used chloropicrin on a massive scale, an organic compound once used as an irritant chemical warfare agent. Its effects include irritating the mucous membranes of the eyes and respiratory tract, leading to tearing, sneezing, and coughing. In higher concentrations, it can cause stomach pain or vomiting. In extreme cases and high concentrations, it can lead to death.

Banned chemical weapons in the hands of the Russians

Now, however, the Russians seem more inclined to use lewisite, which is a banned poison. Serhiy Zguriets from Defense Express believes that "this is a new step towards escalation," we read. At the same time, the military expert notes that the intensified use of banned weapons "should be a reason for international bodies responsible for overseeing the laws of warfare to consider this situation."

– I hope that the appropriate agencies will ensure data collection regarding the use of lewisite by the Russians and also inform the public about Russia resorting to using combat poisonous substances on the battlefield, said Zguriets.

Lewisite causes burns on the skin

The lewisite above is a blistering agent often referred to as "death dew". It comes in three different variations:

  • lewisite A (alpha);
  • lewisite B (beta);
  • lewisite C.

Lewisite A, also known as 2-chlorovinyldichloroarsine, is the most effective and simultaneously dangerous to life and health. It was first synthesized by chemistry professor Julius Nieuwland at the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA) in 1917.

Lewisite A has a specific odour, similar to geranium flowers—not repelling. It can penetrate fabrics, rubber, and skin. Once it passes through the skin and respiratory tract, its toxic effects appear immediately.

This manifests as a slight burning sensation on contaminated sections. However, at a concentration exceeding about 1 mg/m², red blisters appear on the skin (a few hours after contamination) that open after three days. At this point, open wounds appear on the skin. A concentration of lewisite A at 650 mg/m² causes almost immediate blistering (within about 15 minutes).

Scientists have demonstrated that lewisite affects the respiratory tract, causing symptoms of intoxication such as coughing, sneezing, loss of voice, shortness of breath, and lung inflammation. Among the infected, redness of the eyes also occurs, while inhaling lewisite fumes for about 30 minutes at a concentration of 0.001 oz/ft³ (0.03 g/m³) is fatal.

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