World's Most Dangerous Substances
Our planet is full of chemicals that are really dangerous. Let’s check out the deadliest substances in the world.Science
It’s a scary thought, but our planet is full of chemicals that can kill you before you can even figure out how to pronounce them. Some are so volatile, they’ll explode without even being touched, while others are so deadly, a single gram is enough to kill a million people. So, let's grab some protective eyewear and check out the deadliest substances on earth.
If ingested, ethylene glycol will kill you slowly and painfully over the course of several days by systematically shutting down your internal organs. But, on the bright side, it reportedly has a sweet taste!
Commonly used in anti-freeze, when this chemical is ingested, it reacts inside your body, eventually forming oxalic acid, which is really bad news. The ensuing chemical combo takes out your central nervous system, then your kidneys and heart.
Several fatalities are reported as a result of ethylene glycol ingestion every year in the US, mostly in the form of antifreeze. With its bright color and sweet taste, many countries require the addition of a bitter flavoring to antifreeze to stop kids from mistaking the stuff for soda!
Originally used as a pesticide, strychnine turned out to be pretty effective at killing human beings as well. If you inhale, swallow, or even get some in your eyes, it can cause agonizing muscular convulsions and asphyxiation.
It targets the spinal cord, which is the big hub for nerve communication, and overrides the cells responsible for muscle control. Signals are sent throughout your nervous system with no regulation, causing sudden jolts of activity in the form of spasms. Eventually, all the muscles in your body begin convulsing uncontrollably, like an unbelievably painful, full-body cramp. Then, finally, your lungs seize up and death occurs.
Known for being a component in illegal nerve gas that’s been used for various war crimes, Tabun disrupts the nervous system and causes constant, full-body muscle contractions. But its other symptoms are more unusual.
The nerve agent causes your eyes to uncontrollably run with tears and also triggers excess mucus production, leading to uncontrollable drooling. Tabun can be neutralized with bleach powder, but that comes at a price. When tabun reacts with bleach, it produces a poisonous gas called cyanogen chloride, so one problem only shifts into another.
In 1993, the creation or stockpiling of tabun was banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention. As of 2015, all known stockpiles in the world have been destroyed. But, on the off chance you encounter Tabun, do yourself a favor and run far away.
2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin, or TCDD for short, is even less fun to encounter than it is to pronounce. This chemical was one of the main ingredients in Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant used by the US military during the Vietnam War. The military used it to remove the leaves from trees in the jungles of the region, increasing visibility.
Unfortunately, getting rid of tree cover is just one of this chemical’s abilities. It also caused widespread birth defects for years in the areas it was used. TCDD can also give you cancer, not directly, but by promoting the cancer-causing traits of other compounds that are already in your body. So, it’s not exactly killing you itself, it’s more like an evil accomplice.
To quote Toby Flenderson, asbestos is “the silent killer.” This soft, stringy material is likely not what most people think of when they picture building materials. And it’s certainly surprising to learn that this strange, synthetic-looking substance is actually mined from the Earth!
Asbestos was commonly used in construction for years, but seeing as it causes deadly lung conditions, most countries (except the USA and a few others) have outright banned its use. Asbestos fibers are so tiny that they’re able to wrap themselves around your chromosomes, making them malfunction, causing tumors to form.
Asbestos can also give you asbestosis when those fibers get into your lungs, causing scar tissue and shortness of breath. Unfortunately, there’s no known treatment for asbestosis, so listen to Toby’s advice and stay well away!
Considered to be the most volatile and explosive compound in the world, Azidoazide Azide does not mess around. Almost anything, such as heat, radiation, or minimal physical contact can cause it to explode.
It’s so sensitive that sometimes, scientists don’t even know why it explodes, as there’s no obvious stimulus. Even running different tests on it using nothing but light can trigger it to explode! The reason for this remains something of a mystery to science to this day as, thanks to its ridiculous explosivity, analysis is almost impossible.
If mythical fire-water had a scientific counterpart, it’d be Chlorine Trifluoride. The chemical is poisonous, corrosive and can combust almost anything, even normally non-flammable materials like glass and titanium, without any source of ignition like a spark.
It’s so reactive that, when scientists work with it, they have to immaculately clean anything it touches, because any leftover particles could burn right through their equipment. But it doesn’t just react with things like glass, it also reacts with organic materials, such as human beings like yourself. So, unless you want to be set alight, exploded, and corroded all at once, steer clear of chlorine trifluoride!
If you ever have the misfortune of ingesting some dimethyl cadmium, buckle up because you’re in for a really awful ride. The compound will steal electrons from your cell’s molecules, which will cause them to self-destruct, and one by one, your organs will stop working.
There’s also a chance that it will have an explosive reaction when it comes into contact with you. Not only will it ignite, but the smoke it gives off will be highly toxic too! Should you be lucky enough to survive this ordeal, you’ll most likely later get an aggressive type of cancer, since dimethyl cadmium is also extremely carcinogenic.
Venomous Agent X or VX
‘Venomous Agent X’, or VX, was initially sold as a pesticide before people realized how incredibly lethal it was and how awful your death would be if you inhaled any. What makes it particularly dangerous is that it stays in the air where it’s been sprayed for so long that it’s actually considered an ‘area denial weapon’. Just like a land mine.
If you inhaled even the tiniest amount of VX, the networks of neurons in your brain would become overstimulated to the point of exhaustion. You’d suffer violent, full-body muscle contractions, seizures, paralysis, and eventually death by asphyxiation. I think most people would prefer to step on a land mine!
Amatoxin is found in the mushrooms of the amanita family, also known as ‘death caps’, which is an appropriate name since they’re poisonous to everything except themselves. Amatoxin stops your body from being able to form proteins, and your cells begin to die as a result.
This comes with a horrible list of symptoms including insomnia, diarrhea, excessive urination, liver damage, and death. So, unless you want an agonizing death, don’t go picking mushrooms in the forest unless you really know what you’re doing.
Not to be confused with Amatoxin, Anatoxin is a seriously deadly substance produced by certain cyanobacteria. Because these cyanobacteria are found in water all around the world, the risk of them appearing in drinking water sources is very real.
Scientists warn that higher global temperatures could contribute to an increase in cyanobacteria, and thus an increased risk of anatoxin appearing in our drinking water. Coming into contact with anatoxin leads to your muscular system shutting down, beginning with loss of coordination, followed by respiratory arrest, convulsions, and, later, death.
This next chemical won’t kill you, but it’ll certainly cause some involuntary action in your body. Thought to be the worst smelling thing on earth, when a factory in Freiberg, Germany distilled some thioacetone in 1889, the chemical could be smelled from half a mile away. The scent was so horrible that people who caught a whiff in the nearby city began fainting and vomiting uncontrollably.
But sometimes scientists just don’t know when to leave things alone, and in 1967 some chemists near Oxford gave distilling thioacetone another go. In the process, the cap from a bottle they were working with briefly came off. Despite quickly putting it put it back on, there were immediate complaints of nausea and vomiting from people in the building next door.
Everyone knows nicotine is dangerous because it’s addictive, and the tobacco it usually comes with has a lot of nasty stuff in it. But what you probably don’t know is that touching nicotine in its pure form can kill you within a matter of hours.
Coming into contact with as little as 30 milligrams worth, which is about the same as 6 grains of sand, can be deadly, even if it’s only skin contact. Purified nicotine is even occasionally used as an insecticide. In concentrated amounts, nicotine can cause a neuromuscular blockade, preventing nerves from communicating with muscles.
Without anything telling your muscles what to do, you’re paralyzed. While the risks from nicotine are much worse in its purified forms, in rare instances, you can even die from smoking huge quantities of tobacco. Two brothers were fatally poisoned after smoking 17 and 18 pipes worth of tobacco, respectively. So if you must smoke, be sure to keep a tally.
A favorite of terrorists, Ricin is a naturally-occurring poison found in castor beans that’s effectiveness lies in its undetectability. Ricin slowly kills you by stopping the production of proteins in your body that are vital for life, and your body very gradually begins to die.
A dose of purified ricin the size of only a few grains of table salt is lethal, but even if you did ingest ricin, symptoms can take days to appear. Once they finally show up, your symptoms would be a lot of pain, inflammation, and internal bleeding, and would soon progress to disorientation, excessive thirst, shock, and organ failure. By the time you know you’re ill, it’s usually too late; and once your organs fail, death’s not far behind.
Fluoroantimonic Acid is the strongest acid in the world. It’s so strong that it’s actually difficult to study because it’ll dissolve almost anything you try and store it in, emitting toxic vapors as it does so. The acid is twenty-quintillion times stronger than pure sulfuric acid.
The only way to store the stuff is in containers lined with polytetrafluoroethylene, also known as Teflon. Like most strong acids, Fluoroantimonic acid works by rapidly stripping key components from other molecules to the extent that whatever the acid is in contact with eventually disintegrates.
When it comes to deadly substances, it doesn’t get much more potent than Botulinum toxin. Produced by Clostridium botulinum bacteria, the toxin is so deadly that a single, centimeter-cubed droplet is enough to kill a million people. If you were to consume a lethal amount, your nerves would stop being able to communicate with each other.
You’d become paralyzed, and you’d eventually die as your heart and lungs ceased functioning. But unlike most of the other substances, in minuscule doses, botulinum has a variety of other uses besides killing people, such as treating migraines and excessive underarm sweating.
One specific variety of botulinum, called ‘botulinum toxin A’ also happens to be the active ingredient in Botox! When used in minute diluted doses, the toxin can be injected to relax facial muscles and reduce wrinkles.
If you were amazed at the world's most dangerous substances, you might want to read our article about the deadliest substances in the world. Thanks for reading!