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Nerve Agents

What are nerve agents and where are they found?
Nerve agents are deadly, man-made chemical warfare agents. Sarin, soman, tabun, and VX are examples of nerve agents. . They are liquids that can give off vapors that stay low to the ground or below ground (i.e. basements, subway tunnels). The United States government strictly regulates the making, selling and possession of any nerve agent.

How might I be exposed to a nerve agent?
Terrorists could use nerve agents as weapons. Nerve agents could be released into an area as a liquid or vapor. People could be exposed by touching surfaces, breathing air, or swallowing food or water contaminated with nerve agents. It is very unlikely that anyone would be exposed to a nerve agent by accident.

How can exposure to a nerve agent affect my health?
Injury caused by nerve agents depends on the nerve agent and the amount, how a person was exposed and for how long. People with health problems, children and the elderly generally are more vulnerable to the effects of nerve agents. Nerve agents damage the normal functioning of the nervous system and can cause paralysis or death. Other symptoms include:

  • Eye, nose and throat irritation
  • Chest tightness and rapid breathing
  • Diarrhea, increased urination, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain
  • Drooling and excessive sweating, confusion, drowsiness, weakness, headache
  • Abnormal heart rate and blood pressure
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Muscle spasms or seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Respiratory (breathing) failure possibly leading to death

What should I do if I am exposed to a nerve agent?
Depending on the situation, officials may instruct you to shelter in place evacuate a certain area and decontaminate. Leave the area where the nerve agent was released and get fresh air immediately. If the nerve agent was released indoors, get out of the building. If the nerve agent was released outdoors, leave the area. Try to find higher ground, because nerve agents are heavier than air and will settle in low-lying areas.
Get the nerve agent off your body as quickly as possible.
  • Carefully remove contaminated clothing and avoid contact with skin. Place clothes in a double plastic bag and seal the bag. Disposal sites will be set up for the bags.
  • Wash your skin with soap and water. To avoid pressing the nerve agent into your skin, do not rub the skin forcefully.
  • Rinse your eyes with plenty of clean water for five to 10 minutes.
Do NOT drink fluids or make yourself vomit if you have swallowed a nerve agent.

If you have been experiencing symptoms from being exposed to a nerve agent, seek medical treatment immediately?
If you have been experiencing symptoms from being exposed to a nerve agent, seek medical treatment immediately.

Are there medical treatments or tests for exposure to a nerve agent?
Nerve agent exposure can be treated but treatment is most effective right after exposure. There are medical tests that can determine whether you have been exposed.

How would a nerve agent affect pets?
Pets exposed to a nerve agent will suffer many of the same effects as people. If your pet is exposed to a nerve agent, wear gloves and protective clothing to wash your pet. Wash with soap and water. After washing, put your gloves and all exposed clothing in a double plastic bag and seal the bag. Disposal sites will be set up for the bags. Contact either a veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (888-426-4435).

What if a nerve agent is released in New York City?
City agencies have emergency response plans to minimize the harm to NYC residents, workers and visitors. During any emergency, health officials will provide instructions through TV and radio news on how best to protect yourself and your loved ones.

How can I prepare for an emergency?
Being as prepared as possible before an emergency happens is the best way to stay safe. Tools that can help in any emergency include a household disaster plan, an emergency supply kit and a bag of supplies you can grab on the go (a go-bag).
Visit Notify NYC to sign up to receive updates about emergencies from City officials.

How Will I Cope?
A nerve agent attack in NYC can be very stressful, especially if it is large scale event. It can disrupt your everyday life and make you and those around you feel less safe. You may experience fear and uncertainty. Learning about stress and strategies to manage it can help you cope.

Prepare Today, Cope Better Tomorrow - Stress during Disasters provides basic information and practical advice on dealing with the stress and anxiety caused by disasters. It is available in seven languages.

If there is a nerve agent attack affecting the city and you feel overwhelmed and unable to cope, or if you are concerned about someone else, you can find help by calling 1-800 LIFENET. LIFENET is a free, confidential helpline for New York City residents, available 24/7, with trained staff ready to take your calls and offer advice: 1-800-LifeNet 1-800-543-3638 (English), 1-877-Ayudese 1-877-298-3373 (Spanish), 1-877-990-8585 (Chinese), 1-212-982-5284 (TTY).

Where can I get more information?
For more information about nerve agents, visit:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

New York State Department of Health (NYC DOH)

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)