Chemical and Biological Detection kits for the U.S. Military

Chemical/Biological Detection kits have been used by the U.S. Military since the First World War. These kits have had one purpose: detect chemical and biologicalagents that threaten U.S. soldiers. The M272 Water Testing Kit continues that tradition today.

m2-water-test-kit WW2The origins of the M272 kit can be traced to World War II. At that time, the Army Medical Service had developed a testing kit for detecting chemical contaminants in food and water.  The kit was used throughout the war.  Following its conclusion, the Medical Service upgraded these kits with the new ability to detect chemical nerve agents.

In 1952, the U.S. Army recognized the need for a water detection kit. They suggested that the Military’s Chemical Corps adopt the kit that the Medical Service used in World War II. They standardized the kit in 1953 with a new designation, the M2 Water Testing Kit. It was designed to detect chemical agents in water that had not been chlorinated. The kit came in a plastic case, something new at that time, and included reagents, a metal scoop, glassware, and cleaning equipment. The kit was the first water testing kit used by the military and proved so valuable it would remain in service for 43 years. The M2 was finally discontinued in 1996.

During the 1980s, the military updated many detection methods. Among them was the water testing kit. As a result, the M272 was introduced to test water for nerve, blood or blister agents including Lewisite, Nerve, Cyanide and Mustard chemical agents. The M272 was able to detect most chemical agents in water that was both treated and untreated.

The kit is very versatile. It comes in a sturdy, molded, plastic carrying case. It includes everything needed to test suspected water samples. Each kit includes the following:

  • A test container with rubber bung,
  • A connector and liquid crystal based thermometer,
  • Chemical agent detector tubes banded in blue or red,
  • Chemical agent test reagents,
  • Nerve agent test tickets,
  • A plastic coated instruction card,
  • Training simulants, for demonstration tests,
  • Waterproof matches and striking strips,
  • A tube holder which fits in the kits lid.

Testing water with the kit is fairly simple, but might require some training.  Testing for nerve agents involves wetting the provided test tickets with the suspected water sample, and allowing it to soak for a period of time.  Then, the ticket is pressed against a reagent patch for the test.  If the patch turns blue, the water sample is clean. A white patch, however, indicates the presence of nerve agents.

Testing for Lewisite, Cyanide and Mustard in water samples is also possible with the M272.  The process includes pouring the water sample into the test container, and adding the appropriate reagents from the detector tubes. A color change in the detector tube indicates the type and degree of contamination. When testing for Lewisite, a yellow-brownish color will appear if it is present. When testing for Cyanide, look for a blue color, and a purple color indicates the presence of mustard. A white color during these tests is an all-clear indication. If a water samples is suspected of containing H agents, they are heated prior to looking for a reaction color.

In recent years, the M272 has become a very popular kit with Hazmat Fire and Rescue teams. In fact, in several regions around the country, the M272, along with several other Chemical/Biological Response kits, is a required piece of equipment.

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