Chemical Agent Still Active at Nature Preserve


In a testament to the long-reaching consequences of chemical warfare, workers digging a trench as part of the ongoing cleanup of the Rocky Mountain Arsenal discovered lewisite, a chemical warfare agent produced first for use in World War I and produced at the arsenal until 1943.

Lewisite, also known by its IUPAC name 2-chloroethenyldichoarsinine, was first developed by the chemist Winford Lewis (1878-1943), and weaponized at Nilo Park, Ohio. It is a highly penetrative compound, migrating through cloth and rubber, and has been used in combination with mustard gas to penetrate protective clothing, but was declared obsolete when the United States, always an innovator, advocate, and user of chemical warfare, developed a new variant of mustard gas. Lewisite is a blistering agent, primarily causing irritation of the skin and lungs, ultimately leading to liver necrosis and death. It was replaced partly because it was not effective in humid conditions, and its casualty rates were too low because it caused irritation that led troops to avoid affected areas or don protective clothing.

The discovery calls attention to the current delay the US military is proposing in destroying its chemical weapons stockpiles. Although the US was supposed to have destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles by April 29 of this year, the current schedule proposes that the destruction be completed by 2017. In addition, the Pentagon has asked for an extension for chemical warfare stockpiles until 2023. In keeping with its standard operating procedure of putting more money overseas than in domestic programs, the US government funded the complete destruction of chemical weapons achieved by Albania earlier this year.

Chemical weapons are one of the worst outgrowths of the chemical industry, and, although the US government is immune to prosecution under toxic torts law, we can seek other remedies for this situation, such as rallying your representatives to back legislation in favor of chemical weapons destruction.

If your community is threatened by the accidental or intentional release of toxic chemicals into your air, food, or water, contact a toxic tort lawyer at today.