CBRNe Threats

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Nuclear and radiological risks
Do CBRNe filtering suits protect against radiation?

A frequently asked question following Fukushima accident ... The answer to this question unfortunately does not call for a simple answer.
To begin with, personal protective equipment will deal only with external contamination and in no case with internal contamination. Radiation can occur in different forms: alpha, beta, gamma, neutrons.
Whether they are air permeable (such as Ouvry's equipment) or impermeable (plastic), CBRNe outfits protect against the fallout of radioactive dust. CBRNe air permeable Polycombi suit was tested and evaluated in IRSN class 1 according to EN13982-1: 2004 - protection against airborne chemical particles and EN1073-2: 2002 - protection against contamination radioactivity in the form of particles.

CBRNe air permeable outfits are strongly recommended for two main reasons:

  • They considerably reduce the physiological stress on the wearer as compared to waterproof plastic suits and thus increase the autonomy of intervention.
  • In the case of contamination in gaseous form, they allow the adsorption of certain gaseous radioactive compounds which would have been pumped into the interior, which is not true of leakproof clothing.

Protective equipment creates a barrier to radioactive elements that will slip to fall to the ground for the majority or remain on the outer layer of the equipment. For the latter, their distance from the skin is of the order of cm (8 mm of air, 1 mm of tissue and 0.5 to 1 mm of activated carbon microspheres). In the case of proper wear, the alpha radiation will no longer reach the skin and 10% of the beta radiation will be absorbed. The protective equipment will have almost no effect on gamma rays.

Against gamma-type radiation, only a lead deck can provide minimum protection, to the detriment of operational capabilities.

Polycombi®, developed to meet the needs of the White Plan, EPRUS recommendation sheets and Circulars 700/750/800 offers the best compromise protection / maintenance of operational capacity.

Biological agents

Biological agents

 Biological agents used in weapons directed against individuals, animals and cultures are derived from pathogenic micro-organisms or their toxins. Living microorganisms have self-replicating properties and can therefore act at low concentrations: 1 gram of anthrax could infect and kill more than 1/3 of the US population provided it is properly and effectively disseminated.
As for toxins, they are not self-replicating and are therefore closer to chemical agents, with the difference that their toxicity is considerably higher: the LD50 (lethal dose 50%) is 0.001 microgram per kg for the botulinum toxin is only 15 micrograms per kg of weight for the VX.

It is usual to classify biological agents into 3 categories.

Category A agents

 Being the most dangerous they can cause massive destruction if they are scattered within the population. They consequently involve high protection measures. Bacteria such as Bacillus anthracis (anthrax), Yersinia pestis (plague), Francisella tularensis (tularemia), viruses such as the smallpox virusLassa and Marburg (haemorrhagic fevers) and toxins such as toxin of Clostridium botulinum(botulism).

Category B agents

They can also be used on a large scale but are generally less powerful. Bacteria such as Brucella (brucellosis), Burkholderia mallei(glanders), B. pseudomalllei (melioidosis), Salmonella sp. , Shigella or toxins like ricin.

Category C agents

They are not very dangerous by now, for example yellow fever virus, but they could, in case of genetic manipulation, represent a real threat in the future.

The effectiveness of B Type weapons is greater when it is spread by aerosolization. Since the disease does not appear until after a period of incubation of varying length, this weapon has currently little tactical interest. Nevertheless, being more accessible than nuclear and chemical weapons, it can withstand strategic choices in the case of terrorist attacks, for example. They are therefore considered a real and serious threat.

Classification of CBRN chemical weapons

Chemical agents are gaseous, liquid or solid substances which can be used for their direct toxic effects on humans, animals and plants.
Any toxic chemical can potentially be used in an attack, however the risk is mostly present for those with high toxicity (minimal lethal doses). Chemical weapons (known as CBRNe) can have an incapacitating effect on humans and even, in some cases, be fatal.

The main chemical agents of the CBRNe threat are neurotoxic organophosphorus (soman, sarin, tabun, VX) or vesicants (lewisite, yperite), followed by gaseous agents such as phosgene or hydrocyanic acid.

Two categories of chemical agents:

Chemical Weapons

They were developed with a military purpose, to cause disorganization and major mortality in the opposing ranks. The collapse of the former USSR has been able to feed parallel markets, but the production of CBRNe chemical agents by competent chemists is also possible.

Industrial products

They are in the form of fixed storage or tanks / transport containers (road, rail). They are divided into different classes: those with respiratory toxicity (chlorine, phosgene ...) and those with systemic toxicity (hydrocyanic acid, ...). Certain chemicals such as thallium, cyanide or mercury salts could be used in particular by food.

Classification of CBRNe chemical weapons

Depending on the application:
Neutralizing agents - They quickly cause a disability that does not extend beyond exposure. In the context of a terrorist threat, they could be used for disorganization.
Disabling agents - Temporarily cause a mental or physical illness or disability that exceeds the exposure period. They can be used by terrorists.
The lethal agents - They cause death when the man is exposed to it in military or terrorist operations.

Depending on the mode of action:
Asphyxiating or Suffocating Gases - These are highly volatile liquids that, when inhaled as gases, attack the alveolar mucosa (chlorine and phosgene). They are not often used.


These are oily liquids that cause burns on the skin. The best known is yperite (mustard gas). Synthesized in 1822, yperite was used for the first time as toxic war-gas in July 1917 in Ypres in Belgium, which gave it its name of yperite. Colorless, odorless in the liquid state, it becomes gaseous when added to solvents. It can give off a smell of garlic or mustard and causes blisters on the skin, eyes and lungs. It can be responsible for blindness or cancer. Lewisite is also among the vesicants.


These are blood toxins that enter the body through the respiratory tract and disrupt the use of oxygen in the tissues (acid cyanhydric chloride, cyanogen chloride).

Organophosphate neurotoxic agents (inactive agents)

It is the last known and most formidable family. These agents are colorless, odorless, tasteless, more or less viscous and volatile. They can be absorbed by inhalation and dermal. They act on the nervous system and disrupt the vital functions of the body: obscuration of vision, difficulty breathing, abundant sweating, vomiting, mental confusion and finally death. A simple absorption through the skin for one to two minutes can result in death.

Main neurotoxicants:

  • Tabun - Discovered in 1937 by Gerhard Schader in Germany, tabun and was first produced industrially in 1942. The tabun was used by Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war. When it is pure, the tabun is a colorless liquid with a fruity odor
  • Sarin - Discovered in Germany in 1939, sarin was used during the Second World War and during the war between Iraq and Iran. It is a colorless, non-persistent liquid, which emits no odor when vaporized. The steam is colorless. It evaporates 36 times faster than tabun and can be made more persistent by the addition of certain oils or petroleum products. Symptoms include nausea, coughing, diarrhea, breathing difficulties, vomiting, muscle weakness, convulsions and death by choking in ten minutes.
  • VX - This is an "improved" version of the sarin. The symptoms and the mode of absorption are the same as for sarin but it can spread in the air and in the water and the fatal dose is 10 milligrams compared to 100 for the sarin
  • Soman - Discovered in 1944, it was never used in combat, but after the Second World War, the Soman was produced in large quantities by the Soviet Union. The soman is colorless when it is pure, but brown-yellow when it is produced industrially. This liquid substance has a fruity odor by vaporizing, but the industrial product contains many impurities, which gives it a strong odor and a very high viscosity. The vapor is colorless. The fatal dose on inhalation is about half that of sarin. It is, moreover, a much more persistent agent than sarin, so that it can remain several days in a particular zone, depending on the atmospheric conditions

NATO standards
The purpose of this Allied Engineering Publication (AEP) is to assist in the development, setting requirements, evaluation and acquisition of a Low Burden Suit (LBS). AEP 85 should be used in conjunction with AEP 38 (which describes general requirements for CBRN suits) alongside the other documents listed below if a nation wishes to develop a LBS.

  • AJP-3.8 (A) (STANAG 2451) : Allied Joint Doctrine for CBRN Defence.
  • ATP-3.8.1 Vol 1 (STANAG 2521) : CBRN Defence on Operations.
  • ATP-3.8.1 Vol 2 (STANAG 2522) : Specialist CBRN Defence Capabilities.
  • AEP-38 (STANREC 4548) : Operational Requirements, Technical Specifications and Evaluation Criteria for CBRN Protective Clothing.
  • AEP-72 (STANREC 4726) : Recommended CBRN and Toxic Industrial Chemical (TIC) Challenge Levels.
  • ATP-65 (STANAG 2499) : The Effect of Wearing Individual Protective Equipment (IPE) on Individual and Unit Performance during Military Operations.
  • ATP-84 (8) (STANAG 2352) : CBRN Defence Equipment Operational Guidelines.
  • AEP-58 (STANAG 4653) : Combined Operational Characteristics, Technical Specifications, Test Procedures and Evaluation Criteria for CBRN Decontamination Equipment.
  • AEP-52 (STANAG 4625) : Assessment of Effect Levels of Classical Chemical Warfare Agents Applied to the Skin to be Used in the Design of Protective Equipment.
  • AEP-73 (STANREC 4727) : Combined Operational Characteristics, Technical Specifications, and Evaluation, Tests and Criteria for Protective Masks.

CBRNe French organization


References :

  • Circular n ° 800 / SGDSN / PSE / PPS of 18/02/2011, on the national doctrine of the use of the means of rescue and care in the face of a terrorist action involving radioactive materials. 

  • Circular n ° 750 / SGDSN / PSE / PPS of 18/02/2011, concerning the discovery of folds, packages, containers and substances suspected of containing dangerous radiological, biological or chemical agents.
  • Circular n° 700 / SGDN / PSE / PPS of 7 November 2008, together with its annexes, on the national doctrine for the use of means of relief and care in the face of terrorist acts involving chemical materials.
  • Inter-ministerial Circular n° 007 / SGDN / PES / PPS of 8 October 2009 on the inter-ministerial response to the threat or execution of terrorist acts NRBC
  • Doctrine of the NRBC-E State of Prevention and Combating Terrorism (Prime Minister's Circular n° 747 / SGDN / PSE / PPS of 30 October 2009)