Kim Jong-Nam, the half-brother to Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea, was attacked on 13th February while in Malaysia’s Kualar Lumpur airport by two female suspects. The female suspects used a chemicalized nerve agent which left Kim Jong-Nam hospitalized, and he was later pronounced dead that day.
Analysis on the chemical agent used revealed that it was a nerve agent known as VX. The chemical agent is categorized as a WMD (weapon of Mass Destruction) and was banned by the United Nations under the chemical weapons convention in 1993.
You’ve probably have heard of the chemical agent in certain Hollywood movies but do you know why it’s classified as a weapon of mass destruction?
The VX chemical agent is odorless, colorless, tasteless, evaporates very fast and is slightly oily. It’s also a nerve agent which mean it will attack your nervous system and inhibit any musculoskeletal function. Symptoms of the agent include severe muscle tension, seizures, anxiety, blurred vision, watery eyes and rapid breathing.
Also, it is possible to deliver a “binary” form of the agent—where two chemical compounds are mixed to form a deadly concoction. King Jong-Nam is believed to have been assassinated using a binary form of VX.
The nerve agent was created in a pesticide research project in the 50’s, but because of its potency as a chemical agent, it was shelved. According to the CDC, VX is the deadliest nerve agent of all them. Any skin contact with the agent is deadly to a Tee unless it is immediately thoroughly washed off.
Although VX has never been used in any combat situations, there has been used on civilians in unrelated incidents. The U.S had stockpiled the nerve agent but later disposed of its stockpile after the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention in the 90’s
Surprisingly, as deadly as the agent sounds it is quite easy to manufacture since the chemicals that make up the nerve agent are easy to come by—e.g. Sulphur, so long as you have the proper tools. However, this is a double-edged sword since a drop of the substance on your skin could kill you.
Good news is that it has an antidote but only one. Atropine is the only antidote that is known to counteract the nerve agent successfully. In an attack on Damascus a couple of years ago, Atropine was used as an antidote for Sarin which is another deadly chemical nerve agent.
If you’ve never heard of Atropine, then ask your ophthalmologist. It is most commonly used to dilate the pupils of patients in routine eye checkups. Additionally, it is used to dry tear-duct secretions and nasal mucosa.
Considering the amount of the nerve agent that Kim Jong-Nam inhaled and the time it took to get him to a medical facility, the antidote might not have worked in time. With that said, it is good to know about the nerve agent and its antidote should all hell break loose.
Case in point, even though this was an isolated incident, we should strictly regulate all lethal chemical agents especially those that can be used as weapons. Even though international statutes prevent the use of these agents, it’s important that they don’t be used in any form of warfare.