What is VX nerve agent?« Back to Questions List

VX ( Chemical formula:C11H26NO2PS), is a lethal organophosphate.  This tasteless, odorless and amber like colored liquid is used as a nerve agent in a chemical warfare. Nerve agent is a kind of organic chemical that contains phosphorous and is capable of damaging nervous system, thus affecting proper functioning of muscles. Skin contact with even a minute quantity of VX, say less than ten milligrams, is highly fatal. United Nation has classified VX as a Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD).   

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The VX nerve agent is the most dangerous nerve agent toxin ever produced and this is much powerful than sarin, another famed nerve agent toxin. The chemists Ranajit Ghosh and J.F. Newman discovered the V-series nerve agents at the British firm ICI in 1952 and patented the product. On identifying the lethality to human, research on such compounds stopped in 1955. However, countries the United States, Russia, and Syria are reportedly having stock of the chemical.

VX affects release and functioning of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine which in turn affects the functioning of muscles, leading to paralysis and death. VX is produced through a series of steps in which phosphorus trichloride is methylated to produce methyl phosphonous dichloride. This is then reacted with ethanol. This resultant product is used to produce the mixed phosphonite. This then reacted with sulfur to form VX.

If a person comes in contact with VX, care should be taken to remove the liquid agent from the skin and the person be shifted to an uncontaminated area or atmosphere. The affected should be decontaminated by washing with household bleach and flushing with clean water. As far as possible, decontamination should be completed before taking for further medical treatment with antidote drugs. 

It was alleged that Iraq under Saddam Hussein used a combination of chemical agents against the Kurds at Halabja. However, he testified that though Iraq reaserched VX, it was not used as they failed to produce it. On February 13, 2017, North Korean Kim Jong-Nam, half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un suddenly died in an airport in Malaysia. It is alleged that the death was caused by poisoning with VX, thus bringing the deadly chemical once again in focus. 

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