Is Kuala Lumpur airport infected with chemical poison VX that killed Kim Jong-nam?
North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur international airport with a deadly chemical poison, commonly known as VX nerve agent. Here’s all you need to know about the VX nerve gas.Updated: Feb 24, 2017 12:03 IST
Malaysia confirmed on Friday that North Korea’s supreme leader Kim Jong Un’s half-brother Kim Jong-nam was assassinated at Kuala Lumpur international airport with a chemical poison, commonly known as VX nerve agent.
Authorities have now announced they will sweep the airport to “decontaminate” the premises of the nerve gas, considered the deadliest poison in the world.
This is a remarkable move that comes 11 days after the attack attributed to officials from North Korea, said to have the world’s third-largest stockpile of chemical weapons.
Here’s all you need to know about the VX nerve gas, curated from factsheets of the United States Centre for Disease Control and the US National Academy of Sciences website.
WHAT IS VX?
Considered the most lethal agent in the world, a 10-milligram dose of VX is enough to kill someone by paralyzing the nervous system. People can be exposed through skin, eye contact or by breathing the agent – which makes it so unusual that no one else has been reported killed in the airport over the past two weeks. In Jong-nam’s case, authorities say the agent was used on his eyes.
It is an odourless and tasteless oily liquid that is amber in color and “very slow to evaporate”. The V in VX stands for venom. The United Nations classifies it as a weapon of mass destruction.
WHO CREATED IT AND WHO HAS IT
VX was created as a chemical warfare agent in the early to mid-1950s by Ranaji Ghosh, a chemist working for Imperial Chemical Industries in Britain, the Guardian newspaper says.
VX isn’t found naturally in the environment and its only known use is in chemical warfare. It is possible that VX was used during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, the CDC says.
In the 1960s, the United States began production of VX. Only it and Russia admit to stockpiling the agent but many other countries – such as Iraq and Syria – are said to hold several tonnes of the chemical.
RISK OF CONTAMINATION
If VX is released into the air, people can be exposed through skin contact, eye contact, or inhalation (breathing in the VX mist).
If released in water, drinking contaminated water or getting contaminated water on their skin.
Following contamination of food with VX, people can be exposed by eating the contaminated food.
A person’s clothing can release VX after contact with VX vapor, which can lead to exposure of other people through contaminated clothing.
The high possibility of exposure through air and clothes make airports -- where thousands of people are usually in close contact with each other -- particularly susceptible to the chemical agent.
WHAT ARE THE EFFECTS OF VX
The CDC website says the extent of contamination depends on time and the quantity of exposure of the nerve agent.
Symptoms usually appear in a few seconds if exposed to the vapour form and upto 18 hours if exposed to the liquid form. Any visible liquid contact on skin is also lethal.
What it does, CDC says, is disable an enzyme that acts as the body’s off switch for muscles and glands. Without an off switch, the muscles and glands work constantly, tire out, and are unable to sustain even breathing function.
With low to moderate exposure, people can experience high blood pressure, coughing, diarrhea, excessive sweating, nausea. Even one drop on skin can cause twitching and abnormal heart rate.
High exposure can cause unconsciousness, paralysis and respiratory failure.
HOW CAN PEOPLE PROTECT THEMSELVES
Recovery is possible with low-moderate exposure but the antidote has to be administered immediately.
If exposed, the CDC asks people to get fresh air, remove clothing, rapidly wash entire body with soap and get medical care.
First Published: Feb 24, 2017 11:42 IST