Novichok Chemical Suit

Novichok Newcomer Russian Nerve Agent Explained

Until recently I had never heard of the Russian developed nerve agent called Novichok which means “Newcomer” in Russian.

That changed when I came across recent news reports about the attempted murder of a former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter. Which happened in the city of Salisbury, in the United Kingdom on the 4th of March 2018.

On this day the two were found unconscious on a bench in Salisbury. It has since been discovered that at some point during that day they were both exposed to this lethal chemical nerve agent. Both are now critically ill in the hospital along with a police officer who was first on the scene.

Many civilians who were in the area have also been affected being told to wash their clothes and personal belongings.

Just recently Vil Mirzayanov a Russian chemist who defected to the United States in the 1990’s has warned that anyone exposed to even a tiny trace of this highly lethal nerve agent could develop symptoms in years to come.

So Who Carried Out The Attack?

Novichok is nerve agent that was developed in Russia, so are the Russians up to their old tricks? The UK Government think so and have recently stated the following:

Russia has provided no explanation as to how this agent came to be used in the UK, and there is no alternative conclusion other than that the Russian State was culpable for the attempted murder of Mr. Skripal and his daughter. This represents an unlawful use of force by the Russian State against the United Kingdom.

As a result of this action the UK Prime Minister Teresa May has stated that the UK government will now:

  • Expel 23 Russian diplomats who have been identified as undeclared intelligence officers.
  • Develop proposals for new legislative powers to harden our defenses against all forms of Hostile State Activity.
  • Make full use of existing powers to enhance our efforts to monitor and track the intentions of those traveling to the UK who could be engaged in activity that threatens the security of the UK and its allies.

Learning of this nerve agent attack I decided to find out the answers to the following questions:

What Are Nerve Agents?

What Is Novichok?

What Are The Immediate Effects Of Novichok?

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Novichock?

How Is Exposure To Novichock Treated?

Is There Anything We Can Do To Protect Ourselves From A Novichock Incident?

What Are Nerve Agents?

Nerve agents are highly toxic chemicals that come in different forms such as liquid, powder, and gas. They can be fatal for anyone who comes into contact with them. They work by attacking the nervous system preventing it from working properly.

What Is Novichok?

As mentioned earlier Novichok means ‘newcomer’ in Russian and are a group of nerve agents that were developed by the former Soviet Union during the 1970s and 1980s. One of the agents in the group is called A-230 which is reportedly between five and eight times more toxic than the VX nerve agent. Which itself can kill a person within minutes.

Its reported that a number of variations of Novichok were manufactured and it’s also reported that one of the variants was approved by the Russian military for use as a chemical weapon.

It has also been reported that at least one variant of Novichock is a Binary Chemical Weapon which means that its stored and transported as two different chemicals which on there own are far less toxic but when mixed together a reaction is triggered that produces this highly toxic nerve agent.

What Are The Immediate Effects Of Novichok?

Novichock is no different to other nerve agents because its designed to cause the chemical signals between the nerves and muscles to stop working. This, in turn, affects major organs and can lead to respiratory problems, paralysis, convulsions, and loss of control over bodily functions. It can also lead to total respiratory failure, coma, and ultimately death.

Like all nerve agents, Novichok can cause these symptoms within minutes but its also possible that it could take several hours to take effect. This time frame is dependant upon the dosage and the delivery method of the nerve agent. For example, entering the body through the skin or being ingested.

What Are The Long-Term Effects Of Novichock?

Not too much is known about the long-term effects of Novichock which is scary, to say the least for the residents of Salisbury. And for the rest of us if this lethal nerve agent ever gets into the wrong hands!

It has been suggested that it is likely, however, to cause long-term harm to anyone who comes into direct unprotected contact with it. The degree of harm will again depend on the level of exposure.

Another sign of the possible long-term effects of Novichock can be found in a book about the history of chemical weapons called War of Nerves: Chemical Warfare from World War I to Al-Qaeda. The author Jonathan Tucker wrote about one of the Russian scientists who was involved in the development of Novichok. A scientist named, Andrei Zheleznyakov, was accidentally exposed to Novichock and died five years after exposure. Prior to his death he reportedly suffered permanent ill health including hepatitis, epilepsy, severe depression and an inability to concentrate.

How Is Exposure To Novichock Treated?

People who have been exposed to nerve agents such as Novichock are usually treated with a drug called atropine. This drug helps to reduce muscle spasms and the production of saliva. It must be administered as soon as possible after exposure. Doctors may also use a drug called pralidoxime which is an antidote to organophosphate pesticides and chemicals.

Is There Anything We Can Do To Protect Ourselves From A Novichock Incident?

From what I have researched in general the risk to exposure to Novichock is “extremely low”.  According to the

As far as is known, the nerve agent has stayed in Russia since it was developed, which is what gives the Government such confidence that the country either used the poison itself or has lost control of it. But the Prime Minister did not speculate on the people or group behind the attack, or how it could have been carried out.

What can I do If I have been in a place in which the nerve agent has been released?

If you find that you have been in an area that a nerve agent such as Novichock. You should contact local authorities dealing with the incident for up to date information and advice.

You should thoroughly clean any items of clothing and personal possessions you had with you at the time. If your clothing is dry clean only it should be placed in two plastic bags. This creates a double layer of quarantine protection. Local authorities or agencies dealing with the event will then most likely advise you on what to do with the bags whether it be incineration or they arrange for the safe collection.

Any personal possessions like handbags, wallets, and smartphones should be cleaned thoroughly with disinfectant wipes. Jewelry, spectacles, and watches should be washed with warm water and detergent and then rinsed in clean cold water.


Novichock is, without doubt, a very nasty lethal nerve agent and as such we should always be vigilant. Keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity in our surroundings. That being said unless you are in the vicinity of a Russian assassination attempt. Or this nerve agent gets into the wrong hands. Chances of exposure do seem to be very low.

Related Links & Research Credits

What are nerve agents and what do they do?

Novichok nerve agent used in Salisbury: UK government response

Nerve agent Novichok can claim victims for many years

What are Novichok agents and what do they do?

Novichok: what should I do if I think I’ve been exposed to nerve agent?

This is how nerve agent Novichok destroys your mind and body, even if you survive

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