NBC Weapons: Another Chemical Weapon Available At the Supermarket

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NUCLEAR, BIOLOGICAL AND CHEMICAL WEAPONS July 23, 2011: A British supermarket chain is now selling the world's hottest chili powder for those (usually migrants from south Asia) who believe this stuff has health benefits. This is partly in response to last year's announcement that the Indian military was using the world's hottest chili powder (from a native chili plant, the bhut jolokia) for a new crowd control hand grenade. Bhut jolokia is considered the "hottest" chili available (one million on the Scoville scale.) The active ingredient (chemical element) in chili is capsaicin, and pure capsaicin is 15 million on the Scoville scale. Previously, military and police grade pepper spray was usually about five million on the Scoville scale. The Jalapeño Pepper, which is commonly used in Western foodstuffs, is only 8,000 on the Scoville scale. The Indians found that it was a lot cheaper to use powdered bhut jolokia, rather than the much hotter pure capsaicin, for their riot control grenades. It's another example of "good enough" defeating "better."

The bhut jolokia chili plant grows in Bangladesh, and India's northeast. Pure capsaicin is extracted from plants (several species, besides chilis) that contain it, and then used for defensive sprays and riot control grenades. The capsaicin burns the eyes and skin, and makes breathing difficult.

The news media in India played up the use of bhut jolokia for a new riot control grenade. But, in reality, bhut jolokia is but one of several sources of pure capsaicin used in these weapons. Normally considered a non-lethal weapon, capsaicin-based gases (in spray or grenade form), can be fatal if the victim has respiratory problems, and a lot of capsaicin is ingested. But for many Asians living in tropical climates, chilis in food are popular, the hotter the better.

It's long been possible to create some of the earliest (World War I) chemical weapons using cleaning liquids found in supermarkets. Sometimes these poison gasses are produced by accident, but more often it is done by terrorists or teenage boys with too much time, and imagination, on their hands.

 


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