Post updated- My thanks to Rich for providing some more information that has now been added to the post.
The NBC detector paper sets from the Cold War are very easy for the collector to find, with millions produced and sealed examples of the three colour No1 Mk 2 turning up for a couple of pounds: we covered these here. More modern detector paper sets are harder to find and don’t seem to have been surplused off yet so are not available in the same numbers. Tonight however we have one of the No 1 Mk4 detector paper books to look at:This booklet dates from 2006, as indicated by the date in the bottom right hand corner and was manufactured in Canada by a company called Anachemia. This company is a chemicals company that has contracts to produce detector papers for both the US military and the British. The NSN number on the front of this booklet has the -99- country code for the UK so we can be confident that this is a British example. Rich explains why the changes were made:
One of the reasons for change was that it was found that two of the three dyes which reacted the presence of agents used in the earlier marks of detector paper were discovered to be mutagenic, and replacements sought to reduce the risk to those working at the manufacturers.
The instructions on this example suggest that they have a self-adhesive backing, but earlier marks used by the Army lacked this as they were intended only for use in identifying liquid agents, and not for initial detection. There was a three colour detector paper which had an adhesive backing, but it was marked as ‘RAF issue only’ on lists of NBC equipment
The coloured spine has now been deleted and the whole booklet is made in off white card. The back of the booklet gives instructions on how to use the detector paper:The inside of the cover explains what colours the paper would turn if exposed to various chemical agents:The papers themselves are perforated to allow them to be easily torn out of the book and attached to the user’s NBC suit:The importance of rapid detection of chemical and biological agents was explained in this article from the BBC back in 2003 when the fear of Iraqi chemical weapons was at its height:
Fast detection is crucial as some nerve agents can kill within minutes, while the effects of mustard gas can remain unnoticed – and so unprotected against – for hours after exposure.
British troops usually carry two types of chemical detector paper. Both work only with liquid chemicals and respond in less than a minute.
One-colour paper changes colour in contact with any harmful chemical.
Three-colour detector paper turns either red, yellow or green to indicate two types of nerve agent and one blister agent.
Agents in vapour form can be detected using a more complicated “residual vapour detector” which sucks air over paper or through tubes containing indicator chemicals.
Other devices are available which analyse particles to determine the presence and concentration of chemical agents, or the presence and type of biological agents.
One of these, the Chemical Agent Monitor (CAM), is widely used but is reported to have given some false readings when exposed to other substances such as engine exhausts.