Tabun (GA) 1936

Kill Bugs Not People

Historical background of tabun

Tabun was the first nerve gas classified as toxic poison, and it was discovered accidentally by the German chemist Gerhard Schrader, in January 1936, while developing new organophorous based insecticides, to fight against world famine.

Gerhard Schrader discovered that this new toxic chemical formula interrupted not only insects, but unfortunately also other living objects’ nervous system. He discovered a new chemical warfare agent – “Trilon 83” – later known as G-series nerve agent Tabun. During the World War II, the Germans manufactured approximately 12 000 tons of Tabun, in a specially built production plant located in Dyherfurt. The Soviet army seized the factory and shipped it to Russia.

Because Tabun is easy to produce and process, it is widely known and understood it has been used, even though it is banned by OPCW convention.

During Iraq-Iran war in 1980-88, Iraq used Tabun against Iran forces. Iran also used Tabun – among other chemical warfare agents – against Kurdish population in Halabja, in 1988.

Commercial use

Tabun has no use for peaceful purposes in commercial or industrial trades. Tabun precursor chemicals phosphorous oxychloride, phosphorous trichloride, and dimethylamine, are used in organic synthesis, plasticizers, gasoline additives, hydraulic fluids, insecticides, dopant for semiconductors grade silicon, flame retardants, pharmaceuticals, detergents, pesticides, vulcanisation of rubber, and in missile fuels.


Tabun is classified as a Nerve agent in military classification according to its effects on humans. Tabun is stable and colourless to brownish liquid (depending the purity level) in normal ambient temperature. This G-series nerve gas has faintly fruity or bitter almond odour, but it’s odourless when it’s pure. Tabun has low vapour pressure, so it is a low volatile SVOC (Semi-volatile Organic Compound) and non-persistent chemical warfare agent. Persistence will depend upon the amount and purity of the agent, method of release, environmental conditions, and the types of surfaces and materials impacted. Tabun is expected to degrade in the environment fairly rapidly, however liquid Tabun on surfaces generally persists for hours to days.

Tabun acts very rapidly. After exposure, symptoms may occur within seconds – if in vapour – or within minutes to hours if in liquid form. Even a relatively low dose exposure can be fatal, and immediate administration of an antidote is critical. As a nerve agent, Tabun interrupts the nervous system.  Exposure symptoms are pinpoint pupils, runny nose, breathing difficulties, convulsions, sweating, nausea, vomiting, seizures, loss of consciousness or even death.


Leave the area and evacuate the exposed people into fresh air, remembering that Tabun is heavier than air and it would settle in low-lying areas, and stay for a relative long time. For first responders’ protection level in an unknown situation is the highest level. In small spill or leak (less than 200 litres) the initial isolation distance in all directions is 30 meters and protection distance during day is 0,4 kilometres meters, changing 0,7 kilometres during night. In large a spill/leak (more than 200 litres) the isolation area is 1500 meters in all directions and protection distance by day is 1,7 kilometres changing to 3,1 kilometres during night.

The following indicators are common to chemical attacks or presents of CWAs: dead animals, lack of insect life, mass casualties, define pattern of casualties, casualty patterns differentiated by indoor and outdoor location, unusual liquid droplets, areas that look different in appearance, unexpected odours, low lying clouds, and unusual metal debris.

All indications — smells, people’s symptoms — are clues to be taken into account with detection equipment, providing data to classify and identify the chemical, and to start response actions and first aid measures.

Did you know that… nerve agents work by blocking impulses between nerve cells or across synapses? They act primarily via absorption through the skin and lungs and are divided into two main groups, to their military designation: g-series agents and v-series agents.

Published by Toni Leikas

CBRN Officer (CPT.ret), CBRN Specialist. I'm always wondering, why so many makes and thinks that CBRN is rocket science? It's simple following few basic rules and common sense.

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