The substance that kills at touch

Discussion in 'Chemistry' started by Eagle9, Dec 21, 2010.

  1. Eagle9 Registered Senior Member

    In famous movie “The Jackal” (starring Bruce Willis, Richard Gere) is one moment when the agent following The Jackal (Bruce Willis) touches manually the automobile covered with some mysterious substance (The Jackal sprayed this substance to the automobile’s surface) and almost immediately dies. I wonder, does such “killer” substance really exist? The substance that kills you at touch? I do not mean some acid, like Sulfuric acid that might actually kill you, however in case of this acid a lot of amount will be needed to burn your skin

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    I mean the substance with little amount that will kill you when you just touch it

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  3. cosmictraveler Be kind to yourself always. Valued Senior Member

    There are some substances that will kill upon contact. The army has been making germ warfare agents for decades as well as other nasty stuff that will kill upon contact. What those chemicals are isn't known to the ordinary citizen but rest assured they have it.
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  5. Eagle9 Registered Senior Member

    So, only a few scientists are aware about their existence in some secret laboratories, right? And any information regarding such “killer” substances are secret, I assume

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  7. Walter L. Wagner Cosmic Truth Seeker Valued Senior Member

    There are chemical pesticides that are neurotoxic to humans/mammals, and touching them is deadly. One needs protective clothing/equipment to apply them. These are known to field workers and their supervisors, as well as the companies that make the agents.
  8. kevinalm Registered Senior Member

    Well, no. Two of the most deadly synthetic chemicals known are military agents VX and GB (sarin). Their chemical structures are well know, as are the means to produce them. A droplet of VX that can barely be seen, (on the order of a mg or less iirc) will kill on contact. You can probably google the chemical formula for it, I know I saw a magazine article that showed the structure and explained the "binary" system for making it about a decade ago. Both VX and GB are readily absorbed through the skin.

    Then there are several chemicals of biological origin that are quite deadly. Botulin toxin and ricin (spelling?) come to mind. Botulin toxin is one of the deadliest substances known to man. Although most biologicals are proteins and not readily absorbed through the skin.

    Pleasant dreams.

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    Here you go.
    Last edited: Dec 23, 2010
  9. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    As described in The Rock. Sean Connery as John Mason.

    Mason: What eggzhactly does this shtuff do?
    Goodspeed: It's a cholinesterase inhibitor. Stops the brain from sending nerve messages down the spinal cord within thirty seconds. Any epidermal exposure or inhalation and you'll know. A twinge at the small of your back as the poison seizes your nervous system. Your muscles freeze, you can't breathe, and you spasm so hard you break your own back and spit your guts out. But this is after your skin melts off. (The Rock) Project/nerve_gas.htm
  10. Conium Registered Senior Member

    Dimethyl mercury also is readily absorbed through skin (also rubber, latex, PVC etc.), and if anyone touches something smeared with the stuff without immediately rinsing, then the outlook looks really bleak. Not a suitable movie poison though, but pretty horrific anyway. Unlike nerve gasses mentioned earlier, this one can take months before serious symptoms show up, and when it does, it's too late. But doesn't work for a action movie.

    This happened, tragically, to a chemistry professor in the 90's. She spilled a few drops of the stuff from a pipette onto her latex gloved hand.
    Five months after the exposure, the neurological symptoms (loss of balance, slurred speech etc.) became apparent and she was admitted to the hospital, and there it was discovered that she had serious mercury poisoning.
    From there on it just escalated downhill, and within a few weeks she went into a coma for ca five months until she died. By the time it was discovered, the damage was irreversible.

    Basically, dimethyl mercury is a very bioavailable form of mercury which will kill you if you even touch it with gloves, but slowly over the course of months with all the muscular/neurological agony and degradation characteristic of heavy metal poisoning.

    I'll pick VX over DM-Mercury any day.
  11. spidergoat Liddle' Dick Tater Valued Senior Member

    Yes, I knew a scientist from Ft. Detrick in MD who worked on bio weapons (not the anthrax guy, a different guy, retired). He said there was stuff in there where one drop could kill the entire town.
  12. Trippy ALEA IACTA EST Staff Member

    Here's another couple of options:
    Curare dissolved in DMSO or Highly concentrated Nicotine dissolved in DMSO.

    Dissolving something in DMSO is as good as injecting it straight into a persons veins when they touch it - it's absorbed into the skin, then into your bloodstream, carrying any chemicals with it - it's so mobile in the body that when you touch it, it leaves you with a garlicky after taste in your mouth (it get's excreted onto the tongue).

    Both Curare and Nicotine will kill in minutes.
    Curare leads to asphyxiation and legal death in about 9 minutes, with symptoms occuring instaneously.
    Nicotine causes unconsciousness followed by death from as little as one minute to as many as 15 minutes, depending on constitution, and presumably tolerance.
  13. ScaryMonster I’m the whispered word. Valued Senior Member


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    That's it.
  14. ScaryMonster I’m the whispered word. Valued Senior Member


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    1957: 48 tons of lewisite were dumped off the coast of New Jersey.

    1967 - 4,577 tons of mustard agent and 7,380 M55 sarin were dumped.

    1968 – 38 one-ton containers of sarin gas and VX nerve gas were dumped,

    1968 – 1,460 vaults of M55 sarin gas and VX rockets and 120 drums of arsenic and cyanide canisters.
  15. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator

    In the OP, Eagle9 asks:

    I think the answer to your question is no. I doubt there is any substance that would kill so rapidly via a percutaneous (ie. absorbed through the skin) exposure.

    Of course, there is no end of compounds that would kill us in several seconds if we were to be immersed in a pure vat of it or intravenously injected with high doses. But that cannot be considered a likely natural exposure. We should consider compounds as they might be encountered in reality. In the movie scene in question, the character wasn’t held down and IV injected. This leads me to some of the misunderstandings that have been presented here….

    There are no pathogens that kill any faster than at least a few days, more like a week. Toxins may kill faster but we are still talking about a few days, maybe 24 hours if it’s an extreme exposure. So the mystery agent in the movie cannot be a bio-agent.

    Organophosphorus nerve agents differ in their volatility and, therefore, present different hazards. The low volatility agents, like VX, present a percutaneous hazard whereas the high volatility agents, like GB, present a vapour hazard.

    In either case, nerve agents are not suitable for close-quarters assassination (as per the movie) due to the risk of the assassin exposing themselves to the agent. They are only suitable for large-scale stand-off deployment.

    “The Rock” is a mostly appalling depiction of nerve agent toxicology.

    That bit is correct.

    Wrong. Nerve agents do not kill in seconds. Given the available dissemination technology and limitations of the chemicals, a realistic very high-dose exposure might kill in several minutes at the very quickest. A more realistic time would be several hours. A medium dose exposure might cause fatality in a few days.

    Not really. Skeletal muscle first displays fasciculation (twitches) due to hyperactivaton of acetylcholine receptors, then later flaccid paralysis due to hyperpolarisation of the receptors. Smooth muscle either adversely contracts or relaxes (causing internal organ malfunctions) depending on whether the sympathetic or parasympathetic nervous system is involved. CNS effects can cause seizures.

    That’s correct. Lung function is paralyszed and the trachea fills due to hypersecretion.


    The worst bit of fantasy nonsense in the whole film!

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  16. eddanco Registered Senior Member

    If I understand correctly, "toxicity" would be composed of two components: 1.) quantity and 2.) quality. Quantity as in how little it will take to kill you. Quality, as in how quickly it will kill you. Quality is an intrinsic feature of a toxin --- some toxins are just deadlier than others because some affect more important parts of the body than others. Quantity, on the other hand, depends on how effectively the toxin is taken up by the body. Quantity, depends solely on how the agent is delivered (aerosol, vapor, powder, etc.) and how it enters the body (oral ingestion, inhalation, injection, dermal absorption, etc.).

    I recall reading somewhere that a few nanograms/kg of body mass of botulin is enough to kill an adult individual. Given that, a small vial of the stuff can wipe out an entire town. The problem is that botulin has to be delivered straight into the bloodstream in order for that to occur. So, if you want to wipe out a town with a few nanograms of botulin, you will have to wait until everyone is asleep and inject them with botulin. Given a low enough dose, botulin is actually used as botox (cosmetic agent).

    Interestingly, botulin is somewhat of a nerve agent too like VX and GB. It's essentially a a protease (a protein that cuts apart other proteins) like the digestive enzymes in your stomach and small intestine. The problem is, botulin is specific to proteins called SNAREs. These proteins are responsible for "dragging" neurotransmitter chemicals (like acetylcholine) across the synapse into the receiving cell. By cutting the SNARE proteins, the "dragging" of the neurotransmitter chemicals is inhibited. Imagine inhibiting the nerves that link your brain to your heart or your lungs/diaphragm --- muscle contraction is stopped. End result: paralysis.

    Botox is used to prevent wrinkles by preventing contraction. Old people get wrinkles because the skin loses its elasticity as we age. After stretching old skin (happens when muscles contract), the skin does not go back to its original shape, thus ... wrinkles. By "paralyzing" certain muscles, wrinkles can be prevented. It's as simple as that.

    Ricin is another one of those killers although it's not a "nerve agent". Ricin is a lectin --- a type of protein that binds to other proteins (glycoproteins or proteins with carbohydrate groups). Cells are bristling with these glycoproteins. Glycoproteins serve many natural functions. When ricin binds to glycoproteins, it injects a a part of itself into the cell. The part that is injected is a protease (protein that cuts apart other proteins). The protease is specific for ribosomal proteins. In case you don't know, ribosomes synthesize all the protein a cell needs --- structural proteins, DNA-regulating proteins, etc. When the ribosomes go BOOM, the cell dies because it cannot synthesize proteins for its current needs. Cell dies = individual dies.
  17. Captain Kremmen All aboard, me Hearties! Valued Senior Member

    Lets try again

    Mason: What eggzhactly does this shtuff do?
    Goodspeed: It's a cholinesterase inhibitor. It might kill after a few days.
    And then again, maybe it won't.
    You'll twitch a bit, but you won't break your back, and you won't spit your guts out.
    Mason: Gosch. That doesn't shound too bad. Does it make your skin peel off?
    Goodspeed: Ha Ha Ha. Of course not. Where did you hear that rubbish?
    Last edited: Jan 16, 2011
  18. Hercules Rockefeller Beatings will continue until morale improves. Moderator

    I never said that.

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    Nerve agents can cause a horrible death -- spasms, seizures, lung paralysis, loss of bowel control, drowning in your own bronchial secretions, and more. Not nice.

    If you survive, the seizures are likely to cause brain damage if they aren't controlled with medication. Even intermediate to mild doses are implicated in long-term neurological deficits, such as sleep disturbances, memory dysfunction and anxiety.
  19. PsychoTropicPuppy Bittersweet life? Valued Senior Member

    What..and this kind of substance is being sprayed on our food?

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  20. Communist Hamster Cricetulus griseus leninus Valued Senior Member

    You're shitting me. They dumped the most dangerous chemical agents in the world IN THE SEA?
  21. Conium Registered Senior Member

    Yeah that's bad, but some of them would break down quickly in an ocean environment. Mustard agents and cyanides would be quick to lose their toxicity if dumped in the ocean.

    Cyanides would dilute and complex with all transition metal ions found in the water, rendering it harmless.

    Mustard agents are highly reactive, specially with nucleophiles such as water (which is also one of the bases of it's toxicity, undergoing rapid SN2-reaction with water to form HCl). Dumping it in the ocean would also make it harmless.

    Can't speak for the others though, but organophosphates like VX don't seem like they would last long in the ocean, and it would become so diluted anyway.

    Lewisite contains arsenic, which could accumulate/deposit somewhere, but my gut feeling tells me that there are bigger sources of arsenic leakages than the total amount of tonnes spilled from chemical warfare agents.

    Anyways, concentration is very important, and the amount of VX/sarin dumped, and even assuming they would not decompose, it would become so ridicously diluted that it couldn't possibly be a threat to us.

    The big toxins to worry about in the oceans are those caused by leakage of fertilizer, heavy metals and POP from large scale everyday processes.
  22. X-Man2 We're under no illusions. Registered Senior Member

    Maybe one of you know,I only remember bits and pieces of it but remember a TV show on sometime ago where they were showing differant animals that were poisonous to humans and animals.I recall a frog or toad in the jungle as having a lethal poison so potent that a drop or two absorbed thru the skin would kill an adult Man.The natives used the poison on their spear tips.Is this correct and if so do you know more about it? Thanks.
  23. Conium Registered Senior Member

    There's a group of south american frogs called "poison dart frogs".
    They "produce" extremely toxic and lipophilic toxins, so skin contact might be lethal.
    I put "produce" in brackets because it isn't clear how they get their poison, and captive frogs don't produce significant amounts of poison, so one of the major theories is that the frog gets the toxin from a dietary source, kinda like pufferfish.

    Wikipedia has some stuff on poison dart frogs and their toxins, and some great pictures of the frogs. They sport really beautiful colors.
    I was gonna link to the wiki articles on poison dart frogs and one of the groups most toxic species, the Golden posion frog (Phyllobates terribilis), but my post count isn't high enough.

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