Fluoride Action Network

Fluorinated Chemical Weapons

By Ellen Connett | Fluoride Action Network | September 11, 2013, updated 2018

Sodium fluoride, Potassium fluoride, Hydrogen fluoride, and Ammonium bifluoride are chemicals used as precursors in the making of fluorinated chemical weapons. The United Nations classifies three of the fluorinated chemical weapons (Sarin, Soman, and Cyclosarin) as “weapons of mass destruction” according to UN Resolution 687.

In 2013 there was a storm of media coverage, mainly outside the US, on the UK’s approval of exports of sodium fluoride and potassium fluoride to Syria at the very time this government was at war with many of its own citizens (1).

It appears that these exports were thwarted, but it was revealed that 4.2 tons of sodium fluoride was exported to Syria from the UK from 2004-2010. (See U.S. penalties for the export of fluoride chemicals below.)

The media have reported that Sarin was the chemical weapon that was released in Syria and the New York Times ran a long article on the issue on September 8, 2013, but unlike the UK media, they did not cite any of the fluoride chemicals used as precursors (3).

According to Wikipedia, the following are the G-series weapons, “named because German scientists first synthesized them… All of the compounds in this class were discovered and synthesized during or prior to World War II, led by Gerhard Schrader (later under the employment of IG Farben). … This series is the first and oldest family of nerve agents. The first nerve agent ever synthesised was GA (tabun [not-fluorinated]) in 1936. GB (sarin) was discovered next in 1939, followed by GD (soman) in 1944, and finally the more obscure GF (cyclosarin) in 1949. GB was the only G agent that was fielded by the US as a munition, in rockets, aerial bombs, and artillery shells.”[19]

GB: Sarin (C4-H10-F-O2-P)
GD: Soman (C7-H16-F-O2-P)
GF: Cyclosarin (C7-H14-F-O2-P) – See reference 2. below
GB2 – sarin as a binary agent
GE – ethyl sarin
GH – O-isopentyl sarin [EA1221]
GH – O-isopentyl sarin [EA1221]
GS – S-butyl sarin [EA1255]
GB2 – sarin as a binary agent

Sarin was discovered in 1938 in Germany by IG Farben scientists in their attempt to create stronger pesticides; it is the most toxic of the four G-Series nerve agents made in Germany. (See the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention description of it.)

Soman was also discovered in Germany by Nobel Laureate Richard Kuhn who discovered it during research into the pharmacology of tabun and sarin. This research was commissioned by the German Army. Although soman was produced and stored by the Germans, it was never used in World War II. Ref. Wikipedia.

Cyclosarin, a product of commercial insecticide laboratories, was discovered and synthesized by a German team led by Dr. Gerhard Schrader (who also discovered Sarin)  prior to World War II. Cyclosarin is more toxic than Sarin. Ref: Wikipedia. “Cyclosarin was not regarded as a high priority chemical warfare agent until Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, when the UN special commission found that cyclosarin made up a large portion of the Iraqi chemical stockpile.” (2)

Another  fluorinated chemical weapon is called
GV (IUPAC name: 2-(Dimethylamino)ethyl N,N-dimethylphosphoramidofluoridate) (C6H16FN2O2P)
Reference: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GV_%28nerve_agent%29

And then there are the Novichok fluorinated nerve agents.
According to Wikipedia they are called the “fourth generation chemical weapons” that were developed in the Soviet Union in the 1970’s and 1980s. “Initially designated K-84 and later renamed A-230, the Novichok family of analogs comprise more than a hundred structural variants. Of all the variants the most promising, from a military standpoint, was A-232 (Novichok-5)… Some examples of the first group of compounds reported in the literature are shown below, Novichok 5 is 3-chloro-2-methylpropyl ((chlorofluoromethylene)amino)oxyphosphonofluoridate (CAS 16415-09-1) and Novichok 7 is 3-chloro-2-methylbutyl((chlorofluoromethylene)amino)oxyphosphonofluoridate CAS 19952-57-9.”

The Chemical Weapons Convention

In November 1992 the United Nations General Assembly approved the Chemical Weapons Convention and on April 29, 1997, it came into effect with 189 countries party to it (Syria and Israel are among the non-signers). It is an arms control agreement that outlaws the production, stockpiling, and use of chemical weapons and their precursors. Its full name is the Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Production, Stockpiling and Use of Chemical Weapons and on their Destruction (4).

The fluoride chemicals used for making fluorinated chemical weapons

The Chemical Weapons Convention was reprinted in the Federal Register, a US government publication, on September 11, 1996. The fluoride chemicals identified as precursors for chemical weapons appear on page 317:

Hydrogen fluoride
Military Use: GB (Sarin), GD (Soman), GF (Cyclosarin), GE (Ethyl sarin)

Potassium fluoride .

Military Use: GB (Sarin), GD (Soman), GF (Cyclosarin)

Sodium fluoride
Military Use: GB (Sarin), GD (Soman), GF (Cyclosarin)

Ammonium bifluoride
Military Use: GB (Sarin), GD (Soman), GF (Cyclosarin)

Sodium bifluoride
Military Use: GB (Sarin), GD (Soman), GF (Cyclosarin)

 The Convention also lists these fluoridated chemicals as precursors:

Alkyl (Me, Et, n-Pr or i-Pr) phosphonyldifluorides:
e.g. DF: Methylphosphonyldifluoride  (CAS No. 676–99–3) 

Exporting chemical weapon precursors from the United States

In the United States the export of chemical weapon precursors to any country outside of the “Australia group”* is regulated though licenses issued and validated by the Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS), a division of the Department of Commerce. “A principal goal for the bureau is helping stop proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, while furthering the growth of US exports (5).” They regulate dual-use chemicals while “a finished product, like mustard gas, would be considered a munition and regulated by the United States Defense Department (8).”

Potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride were added to the US Department of Commerce control list on March 13, 1991, through a notice published in the Federal Register, entitled Expansion of Foreign policy Controls on Chemical Weapons Precursors (56 Fed. Reg 10756). The Department of Commerce amended the Commerce Control List of the Export Administration Regulations (currently codified at 15 C.F.R. Parts 730–774 (1997)),2 ‘‘by expanding the number of countries for which a validated license is required for 39 precursor chemicals. “ Under the rule, the 39 chemicals will require a validated license for export to all destinations except NATO member countries, Australia, Austria, Ireland, Japan, New Zealand, and Switzerland.’’ Potassium fluoride and sodium fluoride were included on the list of 39 chemicals (6).

According to an update on the 1991 notice by Thomsen & Burke LLP:

“This Interim Rule with Request for Comments expands the controls on 39 chemical weapons precursors classified under Export Control Commodity Number (“ECCN”) 4798B. These chemicals formerly required licenses only for export to Country Groups S and Z, Iran, Iraq, Syria and South African military/police entities, but now require licenses to all destinations, except members of the so-called Australia Group* (7).

U.S. penalties for the export of fluoride chemicals

There have been several instances where companies have exported Sodium fluoride (NaF), Potassium fluoride (KF), and Hydrogen fluoride (HF) without valid export licenses and have received large monetary penalties for so doing, eg:

2012 PhibroChem, Inc.
(New Jersey)
NaF to Mexico $31,000
February 2009 Well Being Enterprise Co., Ltd. NaF to Taiwan $30,000
–  We do not know the penalty amount as the NaF violation was one of 25 charges.
October 2004 OSPECA Logistics Management
HF to Mexico $60,000
February 2002 Honeywell International Inc
HF to Mexico $36,000
December 2001 Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Corporation
KF to Jamaica (the fine also included 10 shipments of high-strength aluminum rod to Israel & Taiwan) $210,000
August 2000 S.R. Traffic Service (Texas) KF to Mexico $10,000
February 1999 PPG Industries De Mexico, S.A. DE C.V. KF to Mexico $60,000
February 1999 ALCOA NaF and KF
to Jamaica & Suriname
September 1998 SYNTEX S.A. de C.V./Mario Palmeros/Villasana & Company, Inc. HF to Mexico $65,000
1990s Sierra Rutil America, Inc. NaF to Sierra Leone $30,000

United States involvement in Chemical Weapons

Some examples: In a 1993 article by Jones & Wagner (8), they cite the following:

Page 535. 84. Id. Iraq’s first chemical weapons plant was built with United States help in 1978-79. Pfaudler Corporation of Rochester, New York, provided the plans. “Pfaulder [sic] labelled its drawings ‘flow charts for a pesticide plant,’ but even a novice would have recognized that at least two of the chemicals it was supposed to produce, Amaton [sic] and Paratheon [sic], could be used to make nerve gas.” Crisis in the Gulf Terror Arsenal the West Ignored, THE INDEPENDENT, Sept. 12, 1990, at 9. Though United States Customs refused to grant a license for the requisite machinery from Pfaudler, the plans were delivered, and using parts purchased from various sources in Europe, the Iraqis jury-rigged a chemical weapons plant at a cost of $60,000,000. Id. See also BURCK & FLOWERREE, supra note 30, at 65 (providing a detailed analysis of substantial public information about chemical weapons)

Page 547: Sarin is very difficult to manufacture because of its corrosive properties. During World War II, the Germans produced only a half-ton. However, United States chemists solved the corrosion problems in the production  process and continued making  Sarin.

Gar Smith recently wrote in The Berkeley Dailey Planet (9):

… As of February 2013, Albania, India, Iraq, Libya, Russia, and the US still admitted to possessing chemical weapons stockpiles. Under the Chemical Weapons Convention, signatory nations are required to destroy their remaining stockpiles. Russia and the US, with the world’s largest inventories of chemical and biological weapons, have still not eliminated their stockpiles. This is why President Obama always qualifies his condemnation of the Syrian regime for possessing “the largest inventory of chemical weapons in the Middle East” (emphasis added).

… Declassified CIA documents confirm that the US assisted Saddam Hussein when he used chemical weapons in 1988. The US provided Iraq with critical satellite intelligence that pinpointed the location of Iranian troops. The records made it perfectly clear that Washington knew Saddam was preparing to unleash his stockpile of chemical weapons — including sarin. The US is now considered complicit in the deaths of 20,000 Iranian soldiers killed by Iraq’s CW arsenal.

In 2002, the New York Times reported (10):

… Another former senior D.I.A. official who was an expert on the Iraqi military said the Reagan administration’s treatment of the issue — publicly condemning Iraq’s use of gas while privately acquiescing in its employment on the battlefield — was an example of the ”Realpolitik” of American interests in the war.

…The Pentagon ”wasn’t so horrified by Iraq’s use of gas,” said one veteran of the program. ”It was just another way of killing people — whether with a bullet or phosgene, it didn’t make any difference,” he said.

* THE Australia Group is an informal forum of countries that, through the harmonisation of export controls, seeks to ensure that exports do not contribute to the development of chemical or biological weapons. Coordination of national export control measures assists Australia Group participants to fulfil their obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention to the fullest extent possible. Reference

43 Countries and the E.U. are members of the Australia Group as of September 2013:
Argentina (1993), Australia (1985), Austria (1989), Belgium (1985), Bulgaria (2001), Canada (1985), Croatia (2007), Cyprus (2000), Czech Republic (1994), Denmark (1985), Estonia (2004), European Union (1985), Finland (1991), France (1985), Germany (1985), Greece (1985), Hungary (1993), Iceland (1993), Ireland (1985), Italy (1985), Japan (1985), South Korea (1996), Latvia (2004), Lithuania (2004), Luxembourg (1985), Malta (2004), Mexico (2013), the Netherlands (1985), New Zealand (1985), Norway (1986), Poland (1994), Portugal (1985), Romania (1995), Slovak Republic (1994), Slovenia (2004), Spain (1985), Switzerland (1987), Sweden (1991), Turkey (2000), Ukraine (2005), United Kingdom (1985), United States (1985).


Nerve Agents

See also FAN’s news articles on Chemical Weapons


1. See FAN NewsTracker coverage at http://www.fluoridealert.org/news/?industry=chemical-weapons

2. Cyclosarin was not regarded as a high priority chemical warfare agent until Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, when the UN special commission found that cyclosarin made up a large portion of the Iraqi chemical stockpile (2).” http://toxipedia.org/display/toxipedia/Cyclosarin

3. Sanger DE, Lehren AW, Gladstone R. 2013. With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas. New York Times, front page, September 8. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/08/world/middleeast/with-the-world-watching-syria-amassed-nerve-gas.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

4. For more information see Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chemical_Weapons_Convention

5. Bureau of Industry and Security, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bureau_of_Industry_and_Security

6. As cited in August 5, 1999, Federal Register, Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administration, [Docket No.: 97–BXA–20], Re: Aluminum Company of America, pages 42641-42651. http://www.fluoridealert.org/uploads/alcoa.fine_.fr_.august.1999.pdf

7. Final Rules published in the Federal Register during 1991. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Export Administraiton Regulations (15 CFR Part 768 et seq.). 9. Expansion of Foreign Policy Controls on Chemical Weapons Precursors (56 FR 10756 on March 13, 1991). Thomsen and Burke, Attorneys at Law. http://t-b.com/files/91bxa.htm )

8. Jones JP and Wagner EN. 1993. Poison Gas Proliferation: Paradox, Politics, and Law. Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Review. April 1. http://digitalcommons.lmu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1293&context=ilr

9. Gar Smith. 2013. SIDEBAR: A Short History of Chemical Warfare. The Berkeley Daily Planet. September 5.

10. Patrick E. Tyler. 2002. Officers say U.S. aided Iraq in war despite use of gas. New York Times. August 18.