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Recent years have witnessed an enormous resurgence of interest in chemical and biological weapons (CBW). Although "unconventional" warfare with chemical and biological agents has been practiced since antiquity, it was not until the 20th century that such weapons were manufactured and used on a mass scale. In addition to battlefield use, chemical weapons may appeal to terrorist groups, in that the technology and financial outlay required to produce them is much less than for nuclear weapons, although the potential morbidity, mortality, and societal impact remain high (Table 131–1).

Table 131–1. Unconventional Weapons: Definitions and Acronyms

Chemical weapons clearly fall within the purview of medical toxicology. Indeed, unlike the many drugs and chemicals widely studied by toxicologists that may incidentally cause poisonings, these compounds were specifically designed to kill, injure, or incapacitate. Some compounds generally considered nonlethal, such as tear gas and pepper spray, are therefore also considered chemical weapons. Biological warfare agents share some characteristics with chemical agents (Table 131–2) and are covered in Chap. 132, although the issues common to both chemical and biological weapons are discussed in this chapter.

Table 131–2. Chemical versus Biological Weapons: Comparison and Contrast27

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