# Why is ordinary soap and water adequate to decontaminate possible nerve agents?

In the news it was announced that anyone who might have been exposed in the recent Salisbury nerve agent incident should wash any potentially contaminated clothing as normal using regular detergent and water; other personal items can be cleaned with wipes.

The agent in question (identified only as Novichok, a family of chemicals) has been described as the most potent ever made.

How is it that ordinary cleaning can suffice as a method of decontamination? Is it a very unstable molecule? Does water (or detergent, or detergent solution, or alcohol solution) act strongly to decompose such chemicals? If unstable in water, how can it remain stable in the body to act? Could any viable agent remain in the wash waste water (going down the drain) after washing and pose a hazard downstream?

Edited:

The focus of my question is entirely about the apparent paradox of a chemical able to remain stable in an everyday environment, yet readily destroyed/decomposed by everyday means. In the specific case, a chemical which happens to be lethal in trace quantity that can persist, yet simple washing apparently destroys all trace, removing any potential for harm.

• Not sure why the close votes. A perfectly reasonable chemistry question. – matt_black Mar 13 '18 at 14:32
• @ToddMinehardt Then the fact that a wide range, if not most, "modern" nerve agents are based on a common fluorophosphonate core which is the target for the hydrolysis to less harmful substances should alleviate the worry. Every question relates to this single chemical feature. – matt_black Mar 13 '18 at 15:55

Most modern nerve agents are based on fluorophosphonate cores. That is they contain a $\ce{PFO(OR)(X)}$ core where R is some organic radical (-iPr in sarin) and X can be a range of radicals (Me- in sarin, OR or N=R in novichok agents).