Mustard gas can cause bodily damage and has been used primarily as a chemical weapon, during combat in World War I and World War II, and during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s.
Mustard gas belongs to a class of organic compounds that include sulfur mustard (Yperite) and nitrogen mustard. Lewisite is an arsenic-containing agent in this class. As gases, these agents appear yellow-brown in color and smell like mustard, garlic, or horseradish. In pure form at room temperature, they are thick and almost-odorless liquids.
Mustard Gas Experiments
In the 1940s, the Department of Defense recruited “volunteer soldier” subjects for experiments using mustard agents to evaluate clothing, ointments and equipment to protect American troops from mustard agent attacks.
- Nearly 60,000 military personnel were involved in a wide range of exposures, most of them participating in mild exposures (a drop of agent on the arm in “patch” tests).
- About 4,000 soldiers were subjected to severe, full-body exposures as a part of field exercises over contaminated ground areas.
Since the early 1990s, VA has conducted outreach efforts to reach Veterans identified by the Department of Defense as participants in these tests and inform them about their benefits.
If you are concerned about exposure to mustard gas during military service, talk to your health care provider or local VA Environmental Health Coordinator.
Veterans not enrolled in the VA health care system, find out if you qualify for VA health care.
Veterans’ dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits. Read Federal Benefits for Veterans, Dependents and Survivors to learn more.