Chemical Terrorism



Terrorists could deliberately release chemicals that poison people, animals, plants, or the environment. Chemical “agents” can be delivered in various forms—vapors, aerosols, liquids, and solids—and by a wide variety of methods, including sprays and bombs.

Chemical agents can produce effects quickly (within a few seconds) or slowly (as much as two days after exposure), and some are odorless and tasteless. It is difficult to deliver chemi­cal agents in lethal concentrations, and—outdoors—agents often dissipate rapidly.



Chemical Categories

  • Long-acting anticoagulants—cause uncontrolled bleeding

  • Biotoxins—come from plants or animals

  • Blister agents (“vesicants”)—blister the eyes, skin, or throat and lungs

  • Blood agents—absorbed into the blood

  • Caustics (acids)—burn on contact

  • Choking, lung, and pulmonary agents

  • Incapacitating agents—alter consciousness or thinking

  • Metallic poisons

  • Nerve agents—prevent the nervous system from working properly

  • Organic solvents—damage living tissues by dissolving fats and oils

  • Tear gas and riot control agents

  • Toxic alcohols

  • Vomiting agents



How to prepare

  • Verify and update official contact information in the Marine Corps Enterprise Mass Notification System (eMNS), and register all cell phones, home phone, email addresses, etc. in eMNS. 

  • Make a written evacuation plan.

  • Make a written communication plan.

  • Choose an internal room for sheltering-in-place, preferably one without windows and on the highest level.

  • Build an emergency kit.

  • Precut plastic to cover doors, windows, and vents to save critical time during an emergency. Cut each piece several inches larger than the door, window, or vent you want to cover so that it lies flat against the wall. Label each piece as to where it fits.

  • Report suspicious activity at



How to recognize a chemical attack

People exposed to hazardous chemicals may experience eye irritation; become nauseated; lose coordination; or have difficulty breathing or a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs. The presence of many dead or ailing birds or insects may also indicate a chemical agent release. Your first warning may be an emergency broadcast or some other signal used in your community.



What to do

If you are in a contaminated area
  • Try quickly to define the source or impacted area, and find clean air quickly.

  • If the chemical is inside a building where you are, try to exit the building without passing through the contaminated area. If there is no safe path out, move as far away as possible and shelter in place.

  • If you are outside, quickly decide the fastest way to find clean air— move away upwind of the contamination or enter the closest building for shelter.


If you shelter in place
  • Close doors, windows, and vents. Turn off all air-handling equipment. (Conventional building filters and cloth breathing filters are ineffective against chemical agents.)

  • Take a kit, and go to an internal, upper-level room.

  • Seal the room with tape and plastic, if possible.

  • Monitor radio, TV, or the Internet for official information and instructions.

  • Do not go outdoors until authorities announce it is safe to do so.


If you are exposed to hazardous chemicals
  • Remove as much clothing as possible; and double-seal it in plastic. Cut it away if necessary to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. Remove contact lenses or glasses. (Seal lenses with clothes; wash glasses in household bleach or soap and rinse before wearing again).

  • Find any source of water and flush the eyes.

  • Wash face, hair, and other affected body parts with soap, gently so as not to scrub the chemical into the skin. (Washing is less critical if the chemical agent is a vapor instead of a liquid or solid.)

  • Change into uncontaminated clothes—clothes stored in drawers or closets are likely to be uncontaminated.

  • Seek immediate medical attention.

  • Avoid recontamination by later touching affected areas and bagged items. Use and decontaminate or safely discard gloves and tools.


Set your own course through any hazard: stay informed, make a plan, build a kit. Live Ready Marine Corps.