Search This Blog, All Links Referenced In All Posts, & Paranoid Links At The Bottom Of The Page

03 February, 2009

White phosphorus (weapon)

I am reporting on white phosphorus chemical weapons being used in Gaza.

If anyone thinks I'm saying anything else, I'm reporting on white phosphorus chemical weapons being used in Gaza. The U.S. has also used white phosphorus in Iraq. It is a banned weapon of mass destruction unless used only as a "smokescreen." Thus, the smokescreen for the smokescreen.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This article is about military applications. For more general information, see allotropes of phosphorus#White phosphorus.

White phosphorus (WP) is a flare- and smoke-producing incendiary device[1] or smoke-screening agent that is made from a common allotrope of the chemical element phosphorus. The main utility of white phosphorus munitions is to create smokescreens to mask movement from the enemy, or to mask his fire. In contrast to other smoke-causing munitions, WP burns quickly causing an instant bank of smoke. As a result of this, WP munitions are very common -- particularly as smoke grenades for infantry; loaded in defensive grenade dischargers on tanks and other armored vehicles; or as part of the ammunition allotment for artillery or mortars.

However, white phosphorus has a secondary effect. While much less efficient than ordinary fragmentation effects in causing casualties, white phosphorus burns quite fiercely and can set cloth, fuel, ammunition and other combustibles on fire. It also can function as an anti-personnel weapon with the compound capable of causing serious burns or death.[2] The agent is used in bombs, artillery, and mortars, short-range missiles which burst into burning flakes of phosphorus upon impact. White phosphorus is commonly referred to in military jargon as "WP". The slang term "Willy(ie) Pete" or "Willy(ie) Peter", dating from World War I and common at least through the Vietnam War, is still occasionally heard.

White phosphorus weapons are controversial today because of their potential use against civilians. While the Chemical Weapons Convention does not designate WP as a chemical weapon, various groups consider it to be one. In recent years, the United States, Israel, and Russia have used white phosphorus in combat.

The United States' use of white phosphorus in Iraq in the Iraq War has resulted in considerable controversy amongst critics of the war. Initial field reports referred to white phosphorus use against insurgents,[3] but its use was officially denied until November 2005,[4] when the Department of Defense admitted[5] to the use of white phosphorus while stating that its use for producing obscuring smoke is legal and does not violate the CWC.[6] A DoD spokesman has also admitted that WP "was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants", though not against civilians.[7]

Effects on humans
White phosphorus can cause injuries and death in three ways: by burning deep into tissue, by being inhaled as a smoke, and by being ingested. Extensive exposure by burning and ingestion is fatal.

[edit] By burning

Incandescent particles of WP cast off by a WP weapon's initial explosion can produce extensive, deep second and third degree burns. One reason why this occurs is the tendency of the element to stick to the skin. Phosphorus burns carry a greater risk of mortality than other forms of burns due to the absorption of phosphorus into the body through the burned area, resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases multiple organ failure.[43] These weapons are particularly dangerous to exposed people because white phosphorus continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely consumed. In some cases, burns are limited to areas of exposed skin because the smaller WP particles do not burn completely through personal clothing before being consumed.

[edit] By inhalation of smoke
Burning WP produces a hot, dense white smoke. Most forms of smoke are not hazardous in the kinds of concentrations produced by a battlefield smoke shell. Exposure to heavy smoke concentrations of any kind for an extended period (particularly if near the source of emission) does have the potential to cause illness or even death.

WP smoke irritates the eyes and nose in moderate concentrations. With intense exposures, a very explosive cough may occur. However, no recorded casualties from the effects of WP smoke alone have occurred in combat operations and to date there are no confirmed deaths resulting from exposure to phosphorus smoke.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry has set an acute inhalation Minimum Risk Level (MRL) for white phosphorus smoke of 0.02 mg/m³, the same as fuel oil fumes. By contrast, the chemical weapon mustard gas is 30 times more potent: 0.0007 mg/m³ [44].

[edit] By oral ingestion
The accepted lethal dose when white phosphorus is ingested orally is 1 mg per kg of body weight, although the ingestion of as little as 15 mg has resulted in death.[45] It may also cause liver, heart or kidney damage.[43] There are reports of individuals with a history of oral ingestion who have passed phosphorus-laden stool ("smoking stool syndrome")[45]


  1. Here's an interesting article about this from TimesOnline.
    There are some good photographs here as well.

  2. Thank you. I have put the link in the post. I appreciate it.