II. Background

  1. History
    1. Phosgene synthesized in 1812 by John Davy
    2. First used as Chemical Weapon 1917 by Germany
    3. Transported as liquid on rail lines
  2. Current
    1. Chlorine used as precursor for chemical manufacturing and as disinfectant

III. Risk Factors: Worse course with respiratory comorbid conditions

  1. Asthma or reactive airway disease
  2. COPD
  3. Tobacco Smoking

IV. Pathophysiology: Toxicity

  1. Chlorine LCt50: 6000 mg-min/m3
  2. Phosgene LCt50: 3200 mg-min/m3

V. Preparations

  1. Chlorine (CL)
    1. Appearance
      1. Green-yellow gas
      2. Low lying gas (twice the density of air)
      3. Liquid when in pressurized canister, but becomes gas at room Temperature out of container
    2. Odor
      1. Pungent, swimming pool odor
      2. Household bleach
    3. Common use as disinfectant in the U.S.
      1. Drinking Water Disinfection
      2. Swimming pool chlorination
      3. Industrial waste cleaning solution
      4. Household cleaning solutions (e.g. Bleach)
  2. Phosgene (CG)
    1. Vesicant (Blister Agent) when in liquid form
    2. More lethal than Chlorine
    3. Appearance
      1. Forms white cloud on explosion or dispersion
      2. Settles into colorless low lying gas
    4. Odor
      1. Sweet, newly mown hay
      2. Freshly cut grass
      3. Corn
  3. Diphosgene (DP)
  4. Chloropicrin (PS)
  5. Perfluoroisobutylene (PFIB)
    1. Teflon combustion (e.g. aircraft insulated wiring)
  6. HC smoke (smoke containing zinc)
    1. Smoke grenades: white obscurant smoke
  7. Oxides of nitrogen (burning munitions)

VI. Labs: Detection

  1. See specific agents as above for characteristics
  2. Detector kits sensitivity for Phosgene
    1. MINICAMS (50 ppbv)
    2. Monitox Plus (0.25 TWA)
    3. Draeger tubes (0.02-0.6 ppm)
    4. ICAD (25 mg/m3)
    5. M18A2 (12.0 mg/m3)
    6. M90 (>50 ppm)
    7. M93A1 Fox (115 mg/m3)

VII. Findings: Symptoms and Signs

  1. Nasopharynx irritation (mild exposure)
    1. Eye irritation and tearing
    2. Nose irritation, Rhinorrhea, sneezing
    3. Throat irritation
  2. Lung and airway (more severe exposure)
    1. Cough
    2. Dyspnea
    3. Hypoxia
    4. Hoarseness, Stridor or choking Sensation (laryngeal edema, tracheitis)
    5. Wheezing (bronchospasm)
    6. Chest tightness
    7. Copious watery airway secretions
    8. Delayed Pulmonary Edema (at least 2-4 hours from time of exposure)

VIII. Differential Diagnosis

IX. Labs

  1. No specific Lab testing
  2. Hematocrit increased
  3. Arterial Blood Gas (ABG)
    1. Low PaO2
    2. Low PaCO2
  4. Peak Expiratory Flow decreased

X. Prognosis: Indicators of severe exposure

  1. Signs or symptom onset in first 4 hours after exposure

XI. Imaging

  1. Chest XRay
    1. Hyperinflation
    2. Delayed Pulmonary Edema
    3. No cardiomegaly
    4. Pneumomediastinum has been reported
  2. CT Chest
  3. Ventilation Perfusion Scan (V/Q Scan)
    1. High Test Sensitivity but not specific

XII. Management: General

  1. Terminate exposure immediately
    1. Degree of injury is directly proportional to the exposure duration
  2. Decontamination
    1. Vapor exposure
      1. Fresh air
    2. Liquid exposure
      1. Copious water irrigation
      2. Hypochlorite 0.5%
      3. M291
  3. ABC Management
  4. Pulmonary Management
    1. Oxygen
    2. Treat Bronchospasm
      1. Beta-adrenergic Bronchodilators (Nebulized Albuterol)
      2. Consider Solu-Medrol (e.g. 125 mg every 6 hours) in severe cases
      3. Consider nebulized Sodium Bicarbonate
        1. May improve symptoms and improve pulmonary function (studied in Chlorine gas exposure)
    3. Observe for signs respiratory distress
      1. Evaluate for Pulmonary Edema
    4. Positive Pressure Ventilation
      1. Keep pressures as low as possible to avoid Barotrauma
      2. Consider Non-Invasive Positive Pressure Ventilation (e.g. BIPAP)
      3. Mechanical Ventilation if indicated in severe cases
  5. Intravenous Fluid hydration with crystalloid
  6. Rest and Observation

XIII. Management: Triage of Patients presenting within 12 hours

  1. Immediate
    1. Pulmonary Edema with ICU available
  2. Delayed
    1. Dyspnea without other signs
    2. Re-triage hourly
  3. Minimal
    1. Asymptomatic with exposure
    2. Re-triage every 2 hours
  4. Expectant
    1. Pulmonary Edema, Cyanosis, or Hypotension
    2. Ominous if onset within 6 hours of exposure

XIV. Management: Triage of Patients presenting over 12 hours

  1. Immediate
    1. Pulmonary Edema if ICU within hours
  2. Delayed
    1. Re-triage every 2 hours
    2. Discharge if recovering and 24 hours observation
  3. Minimal
    1. Asymptomatic
  4. Expectant
    1. Persistent Hypotension despite ICU

XV. Prevention

  1. Activated Charcoal in chemical protective mask
    1. Absorbs Phosgene and offers complete protection

XVI. Complications

  1. Acute Pulmonary Edema
  2. Pulmonary fibrosis

XVII. References

  1. Ashoo (2018) EM:Rap 18(2): 4-5
  2. Seeyave (2015) Crit Dec Emerg Med 29(5): 13-21
  3. Medical Response to Chemical Warfare and Terrorism
    1. US Army Medical Research Institute Chemical Defense
    2. Video-Teleconference: 4/20/00 to 4/22/99
    3. Video-Teleconference: 12/5/00 to 12/7/00
    4. Text: 3rd Edition, December 1998

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Related Studies

Ontology: Chlorine (C0008209)

Definition (NCI_NCI-GLOSS) A chemical used in manufacturing, as a bleach, and to kill bacteria and other organisms in water.
Definition (NCI) An element with atomic symbol Cl, atomic number 17, and atomic weight 35.05.
Definition (MSH) A greenish-yellow, diatomic gas that is a member of the halogen family of elements. It has the atomic symbol Cl, atomic number 17, and atomic weight 70.906. It is a powerful irritant that can cause fatal pulmonary edema. Chlorine is used in manufacturing, as a reagent in synthetic chemistry, for water purification, and in the production of chlorinated lime, which is used in fabric bleaching.
Definition (CSP) greenish-yellow, diatomic halogen gas element; atomic symbol Cl, atomic number 17, and atomic weight 70.906; a powerful irritant that can cause fatal pulmonary edema.
Concepts Hazardous or Poisonous Substance (T131) , Element, Ion, or Isotope (T196)
MSH D002713
SnomedCT 29276003
LNC LP18922-2, MTHU006887
English Chlorine, Cl, Chlorine [Chemical/Ingredient], chlorine, chlorine gas, Cl element, CHLORINE, Chlorine gas, Cl - Chlorine, Chlorine (substance), Chlorine, NOS
Swedish Klor
Czech chlor
Finnish Kloori
Croatian KLOR
Latvian Hlors
Polish Chlor
Norwegian Klor
Spanish cloro (sustancia), cloro, gas de cloro, Cloro
French Chlore
German Chlor
Italian Cloro
Portuguese Cloro

Ontology: Phosgene (C0031591)

Definition (MSH) A highly toxic gas that has been used as a chemical warfare agent. It is an insidious poison as it is not irritating immediately, even when fatal concentrations are inhaled. (From The Merck Index, 11th ed, p7304)
Concepts Hazardous or Poisonous Substance (T131) , Organic Chemical (T109)
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SnomedCT 70221002
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English Phosgene, Phosgene [Chemical/Ingredient], phosgenes, phosgene, Carbonic dichloride, Carbonyl chloride, Phosgene (substance)
Swedish Fosgen
Czech fosgen
Finnish Fosgeeni
Polish Fosgen, Tlenochlorek węgla
Spanish cloruro de carbonilo, dicloruro carbónico, fosgeno (sustancia), fosgeno, Fosgeno
French Phosgène
German Phosgen, Grünkreuzkampfstoff
Italian Fosgene
Portuguese Fosgênio

Ontology: Lung irritant chemical warfare agent (C0301227)

Concepts Hazardous or Poisonous Substance (T131)
SnomedCT 62194002
English Lung irritant chemical warfare agent, Lung irritant chemical warfare agent (substance), Lung irritant chemical warfare agent, NOS
Spanish agente químico irritante pulmonar para armas de guerra, agente químico irritante pulmonar utilizado en la guerra (sustancia), agente químico irritante pulmonar utilizado en la guerra