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Indiana State Department of Health

Public Health Preparedness Home > Chemical Agents > Sulfur Mustard Facts about Sulfur Mustard

What is sulfur mustard?

Sulfur mustard, also known as mustard gas or mustard agent, is a chemical warfare agent and was used as such in World Wars I and II.  It was reportedly used in the Iran-Iraq war in 1980-1988.  It is not presently used in the United States, except for research purposes and the U.S. Department of Defense must destroy all remaining stocks of sulfur mustard.  Sulfur mustard sometimes smells like garlic, onions, or mustard and sometimes has no odor.  It can be a vapor (the gaseous form of a liquid), an oily-textured liquid, or a solid.  Sulfur mustard can be clear to yellow or brown when it is in liquid or solid.   

How does sulfur mustard enter the environment?

Sulfur mustard is not found naturally in the environment.  Sulfur mustard would only be found in the environment if there were an accidental release from military storage facilities.     

How can people be exposed to sulfur mustard?

Since sulfur mustard is no longer made in the United States and is only found at a few military storage sites, the general public is not exposed to sulfur mustard.  Individuals working at or living near these military storage sites would only be exposed to sulfur mustard if there was an accidental spill or unplanned release.

How can sulfur mustard affect my health?

Sulfur mustard can cause skin burns and blisters, especially around sweaty parts of the body.  It is more harmful to the skin on hot, humid days, or in a tropical climate.  Sulfur mustard makes your eyes burn, your eyelids swell, and causes you to blink a lot.  Breathing sulfur mustard can cause coughing, bronchitis, and long-term respiratory disease.  Exposure to a large amount of sulfur mustard can cause death. 

Is there a medical test to show whether I’ve been exposed to sulfur mustard?

Sulfur mustard or its breakdown products can be detected in your blood and urine within a few weeks after your last exposure.  These tests are not usually available at your doctor’s office, but your doctor can send the samples to a laboratory that can perform the tests. 

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