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ical warfare agents. Lewis had noticed a paragraph in a 1904 student dissertation by J.A. Nieuwland that documented the formation of an "extremely poisonous" substance after a reaction of arsenic chloride with dry acetylene in the presence of aluminum chloride (cited in Lewis and Perkins, 1923). The toxicity that had caused Nieuwland to stop further work on the reaction spurred Lewis to investigate the substance more fully. In addition, Lewis and his group worked out safer and more efficient production methods and elaborated plans for large-scale production (Lewis and Perkins, 1923; Lewis and Steigler, 1925). A production plant was eventually constructed in Willoughby, Ohio, and approximately 150 tons of Lewisite were in transit to Europe when the Armistice was signed in November 1918. The vessel was sunk at sea (Spiers, 1986; Tarbell and Tarbell, 1981; Trammell, 1992), and all experimental work with Lewisite in the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service abruptly ceased until WWII (Gates et al., 1946).

RESEARCH PROGRAMS OF WORLD WAR I AND THE POSTWAR PERIOD

As outlined above, prior to the actual use of sulfur mustard as a war gas in 1917, the substance was little more than an interesting compound produced, along with hundreds of other compounds, by the emerging science of industrial chemistry in the last half of the nineteenth century. Thus, tragically, the combat casualties of WWI became the first large group of experimental subjects in studies of the medical effects of sulfur mustard. Organized research into chemical warfare agents began in earnest in Britain and France after the German chlorine gas attack in 1915. In the United States, it was 1917 before a formally organized chemical warfare research program was established. The history of the program has been documented by various authors and summarized by Cochrane (1946) in a classified report released to the public in 1991. The program began with an offer from the Bureau of Mines to the National Research Council (NRC) to mobilize the bureau's unique and specialized laboratories toward the investigation of poison gases.1 With the U.S. declaration of war against Germany in 1917, the NRC Committee on Noxious Gases was formed to administer the research programs concerning poison gases, including sulfur mustard and later Lewisite.

In the United States and Europe, much of the research was focused on methods of mass production of sulfur mustard, development of other vesicants and war gases, and development of better gas masks and other

1  

The National Research Council was in 1917 and is today part of the National Academy of Sciences. The NRC was directly involved in defense research programs during both World War I and World War II. A description of this involvement is included in Appendix C.



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