Tabun, Bioterrorism

  • Tabun is a man-made chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. These are chemicals that prevent your nerves from working as they naturally do. Nerve agents are the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents. They cause harmful effects similar to pesticides (insect killers) called organophosphates. However, nerve agents are more potent than organophosphate pesticides.

  • Tabun was originally developed as a pesticide in Germany in 1936. Tabun is also known as "GA".

  • Tabun is a clear, colorless, tasteless liquid with a faint fruity odor. Tabun can become a vapor if heated.


  • It is possible that tabun or other nerve agents were used in chemical warfare during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980's.

  • Tabun is not found naturally in the environment.


  • People can be exposed through skin contact, eye contact, or inhalation (breathing in the tabun) after tabun is released into the air.

  • Tabun mixes easily with water. It could be used to poison water. People can be exposed by drinking contaminated water or getting contaminated water on their skin.

  • Following contamination of food with tabun, people can be exposed by eating the contaminated food.

  • A person's clothing can release tabun for about 30 minutes after contact with tabun vapor. This can expose other people.

  • Tabun breaks down slowly in the body. Repeated exposures to tabun and/or other nerve agents can build up in the body.

  • Because tabun vapor is heavier than air, it will sink to low-lying areas and create a greater exposure hazard there.


  • The extent of poisoning caused by tabun depends on the amount of tabun a person was exposed to, how the person was exposed, and the length of time of the exposure.

  • Symptoms will appear within a few seconds after exposure to the vapor form of tabun and within a few minutes to up to 18 hours after exposure to the liquid form.

  • Nerve agents cause their toxic effects by preventing the proper operation of the chemical that acts as the body's "off switch" for glands and muscles. Without an "off switch," the glands and muscles are constantly being stimulated. They may tire and no longer be able to sustain breathing function.

  • Compared with other nerve agents, tabun is more volatile than VX but less volatile than sarin. The higher a chemical's volatility , the more likely it will evaporate from a liquid into a vapor and disperse into the environment. People can be exposed to the vapor even if they do not come in contact with the liquid form.

  • Because of its high volatility, tabun is an immediate but short-lived threat. It does not last a long time in your surroundings.

  • Because tabun is more volatile than VX, it will remain on exposed surfaces for a shorter period of time compared with VX.

  • Because tabun is less volatile than sarin, it will remain on exposed surfaces for a longer period of time compared with sarin.


Although tabun has a faint fruity odor, the odor may not be noticeable enough to give people enough warning about a toxic exposure.

People exposed to a low or moderate dose of tabun by inhalation, ingestion (swallowing), or skin absorption may experience some or all of the following symptoms within seconds to hours of exposure:

  • Runny nose.

  • Watery eyes.

  • Small, pinpoint pupils.

  • Eye pain.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Drooling and excessive sweating.

  • Cough.

  • Chest tightness.

  • Rapid breathing.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Increased urination.

  • Confusion.

  • Drowsiness.

  • Weakness.

  • Headache.

  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or abdominal pain.

  • Slow or fast heart rate.

  • Abnormally low or high blood pressure.

  • Even a tiny drop of nerve agent on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching where the agent touched the skin.

  • Exposure to a large dose of tabun by any route may result in these additional health effects:

  • Loss of consciousness.

  • Convulsions.

  • Paralysis.

  • Respiratory failure (breathing stops) possibly leading to death.

  • These signs and symptoms do not always mean that a person has been exposed to tabun.


Mild or moderately exposed people usually recover completely. Severely exposed people are not likely to survive. Unlike some organophosphate pesticides, nerve agents have not been associated with neurological problems lasting more than 1 to 2 weeks after the exposure.


Recovery from tabun exposure is possible with treatment. The antidotes available must be used quickly to be effective. The best thing to do is avoid exposure:

  • Leave the area where the tabun was released and get to fresh air. Quickly moving to an area where fresh air is available is highly effective in reducing the possibility of death from exposure to tabun vapor.

  • If the tabun release was outdoors, move away from the area where the tabun was released. Go to the highest ground possible because tabun is heavier than air and will sink to low-lying areas.

  • If the tabun release was indoors, get out of the building.

  • If people think they may have been exposed, they should remove their clothing, rapidly wash their entire body with soap and water, and get medical care as quickly as possible.

  • Removing and disposing of clothing:

  • Quickly take off clothing that has liquid tabun on it. Any clothing that has to be pulled over the head should be cut off the body instead of pulled over the head. Seal the clothing in a plastic bag if possible. Then seal the first plastic bag in a second plastic bag. This will help protect people from any chemicals that might be on their clothes.

  • If clothes were placed in plastic bags, inform either the local or state health department or emergency personnel upon their arrival. Do not handle the plastic bags.

  • When helping other people, remove their clothing as quickly as possible. Try to avoid touching any contaminated clothes.

  • Washing the body:

  • As quickly as possible, wash any liquid tabun from the skin with large amounts of soap and water. Washing with soap and water will help protect people from chemicals on their bodies.

  • Rinse the eyes with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes if they are burning or if vision is blurred.

  • If tabun has been ingested (swallowed), do not induce vomiting or give fluids to drink.

  • Seek medical attention right away. Dial 911 and explain what has happened.


Treatment consists of removing tabun from the body as soon as possible and providing supportive medical care in a hospital setting. Antidotes are available for tabun. They are most useful if given as soon as possible after exposure.


Regional poison control center

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Public Response

Emergency Preparedness and Response:

Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Planning

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry