Mustard gas

Posted by Argh on January 23, 2002

In Reply to: Mustard gas posted by Bruce Kahl on January 23, 2002

: : : Why did they call this horrible stuff Mustard Gas?(WWI)
: : : It was not because of the colour, it was not visible. Any ideas?

: : I have come across two possible explanations. The first is that the gas had a mustard-like odour - from the American Heritage dictionary.

: : I also found a quote from a nurse describing how victims of the gas suffered with "Great mustard-coloured blisters, blind eyes, all sticky and stuck together, always fighting for breath, with voices a mere whisper, saying that their throats are closing and they know they will choke."

: Mustard gas is the common name given to 1,1-thiobis(2-chloroethane), a chemical warfare agent that is believed to have first been used near Ypres in Flanders on 12th July 1917. Its chemical formula is Cl-CH2-CH2-S-CH2-CH2-Cl

: Its other names include H, yprite, sulfur mustard and Kampstoff Lost, but the name mustard gas became more widely used, because the impure "agent quality" is said to have an odor similar to that of mustard, garlic or horseradish. When pure, it is in fact both odourless and colourless.

: MUSTARD is corrosive to the eyes, skin and respiratory tract. The skin healing process is very slow. Exposure to nearly lethal doses can produce injury to bone marrow, lymph nodes, and spleen causing a drop in white blood cell count and resulting in increased susceptibility to local and systemic infections.

I work in a pharmacology lab, where we routinely use a drug called 4-DAMP for experimentation on pieces of intestinal tissue. its effects are reversible, but "4-DAMP mustard," which we also use, binds irreversibly to ("alkylates") its target site. it led me to suspect that the "mustard" name has another connotation.

the OED gives "Any of the group of substances that contains mustard gas and the nitrogen mustards."

where nitrogen mustards are chemicals "...containing the group N(CH2CH2Cl)2, which are cytotoxic as a result of their alkylating property..." (ibid.)