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- Soman is a human-made
chemical warfare agent classified as a nerve agent. Nerve agents are
the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents.
They are similar to insecticides called organophosphate insecticides
in terms of how they work and what kinds of harmful effects they cause.
However, nerve agents are much more potent than insecticides.
- Soman was originally
developed as an insecticide in Germany in 1944.
- Soman is also known
- Soman is a clear,
colorless, tasteless liquid with a slight camphor odor (for example,
Vicks Vapo-Rub®) or rotting fruit odor.
is found and how it is used
- Soman is not found
naturally in the environment.
- It is possible
that soman or other nerve agents were used in chemical warfare during
the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s.
How people can be exposed to soman
- Following release
of soman into the air, people can be exposed through skin contact, eye
contact, or inhalation (breathing in the soman mist).
- Following release
of soman into water, people can be exposed by drinking contaminated
water or getting contaminated water on their skin.
- Following contamination
of food with soman, people can be exposed by eating the contaminated
- A person’s clothing
can release soman for about 30 minutes after contact with soman vapor,
which can lead to exposure of other people.
- Soman breaks down
slowly in the body, meaning that repeated exposures to soman and/or
other nerve agents can have a cumulative effect (build up in the body).
- The extent of poisoning
caused by soman depends on the amount of soman 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 soman, and
within a few minutes to up to 18 hours after exposure to the liquid
- All the 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
- Soman vapor is
heavier than air, so it would be more likely to settle in low-lying
- Soman mixes easily
with water, so it could be used to poison water.
- Compared with other
nerve agents, soman 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, soman is an immediate but short-lived threat and does
not last a long time in the environment.
- Because soman is
more volatile than the nerve agent VX (the most potent nerve agent),
it will remain on exposed surfaces for a longer period of time compared
signs and symptoms of soman exposure
- Although soman
has a camphor or fruity odor, the odor may not be noticeable enough
to give people sufficient warning against a toxic exposure.
- People exposed
to a low or moderate dose of soman 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
- Eye pain
- Blurred vision
- Drooling and
- Chest tightness
- Rapid breathing
- Increased urination
- Nausea, vomiting,
and/or abdominal pain
- Slow or fast
low or high blood pressure
- Even a tiny drop
of nerve agent on the skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching here
the agent touched the skin.
- Exposure to a large
dose of soman by any route may result in these additional health effects:
- Loss of consciousness
failure possibly leading to death
What the long-term
health effects are
- Mild or moderately
exposed people usually recover completely. Some studies in animals and
people suggest that severe nerve agent poisoning can cause long-term
central nervous system effects, such as changes in brain activity. However,
it is unclear what such changes may mean, if anything, regarding the
function and long-term health status of a person who has been mildly
or moderately exposed to soman.
can protect themselves and what they should do if they are exposed to
- Recovery from soman
exposure is possible with treatment, but the antidotes available must
be used quickly to be effective. Therefore, the best thing to do is
avoid exposure. If exposure cannot be avoided, rapidly decontaminate
and get medical care as quickly as possible.
- Leave the area
where the soman 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 soman vapor.
- If the soman release
was outdoors, move away from the area where the soman was released.
Go to the highest ground possible, because soman is heavier than air
and will sink to low-lying areas.
- If the soman release
was indoors, get out of the building.
- Remove any clothing
that has liquid soman on it, and if possible, seal the clothing in a
plastic bag. Then seal the first plastic bag in a second plastic bag.
Removing and sealing the clothing in this way will protect you and others
from any chemicals that might be on your clothes.
- If helping other
people remove their clothing, try to avoid touching any contaminated
areas, and remove the clothing as quickly as possible.
- Rinse the eyes
with plain water for 10 to 15 minutes if they are burning or vision
- As quickly as possible,
wash any liquid soman from the skin with large amounts of soap and water.
Washing with soap and water will protect people from any chemicals on
- If soman has been
ingested (swallowed), do not induce vomiting or give fluids to drink.
Seek medical attention right away.
- Stay calm. Dial
911 and explain what has happened.
- Wait for emergency
personnel to arrive.
poisoning is treated
Soman poisoning is
treated with antidotes and supportive medical care. The most important
thing is for victims to be rapidly decontaminated and get medical treatment
as soon as possible.
How people can get more information about soman
contact one of the following:
- Regional poison
control center (1-800-222-1222)
- Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention Public Response Hotline (CDC)
- English (888)
- Español (888)
- TTY (866) 874-2646
- English (888)
- Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) (1-888-422-8737)