Autopsies of the victims of the Syrian gas attack suggest sarin gas was likely the chemical weapon involved. As reported by Time, the attack resulted in the death of over 80 people, with the president of Syria, Bashar al-Assad, being largely blamed for the incident though the Syrian government continues to deny responsibility.
The recent attack in the Idlib province in Syria is not the first time sarin gas was used in the country. As reported by Fox News, U.S. intelligence agencies estimate more than a thousand Syrians were killed after being exposed to weaponized sarin gas near the city of Damascus in August 2013. That attack was carried out by the Syrian government.
Sarin gas is a human-made nerve agent known for its use as a chemical weapon. It was originally designed to be a stronger pesticide in pre-war Germany and was even turned over to the German military in World War II, though it was never used on the battle field. The CDC considers nerve agents to be “the most toxic and rapidly acting of the known chemical warfare agents.” These chemicals act in a way similar to insecticides called organophosphates.
When released into the air, sarin gas can be inhaled by people in the affected area. Exposure can also occur through contact with the skin and eyes. The extent of the damage a person suffers depends on the amount of sarin gas to which they were exposed as well as the nature and duration of the exposure.
Typically, symptoms associated with being exposed to sarin gas begin to develop within a few seconds. The chemical acts of the nervous system, preventing a particular enzyme in the body from functioning properly. The symptoms of Sarin gas are unpleasant, to say the least. According to a Wikipedia article:
Initial symptoms following exposure to sarin are a runny nose, tightness in the chest and constriction of the pupils. Soon after, the victim has difficulty breathing and experiences nausea and drooling. As the victim continues to lose control of bodily functions, the victim vomits, defecates and urinates. This phase is followed by twitching and jerking. Ultimately, the victim becomes comatose and suffocates in a series of convulsive spasms. Moreover, common mnemonics for the symptomatology of organophosphate poisoning, including sarin gas, are the “killer B’s” of bronchorrhea and bronchospasm because they are the leading cause of death, and SLUDGE – Salivation, Lacrimation, Urination, Defecation, Gastrointestinal distress, and Emesis.
Individuals who are exposed to a low amount sarin often experience a full recovery, experiencing only mild symptoms like a runny nose, watery eyes, and cough. Treatments for sarin gas exposure are available but must be administered quickly to be effective. Unless the antidote is readily available, those experiencing symptoms associated with moderate to severe exposure are less likely to survive.
Sarin is a colorless and odorless fluid, originally developed in Germany in 1938 as an attempt to create a stronger pesticide. The formula was passed to the German Army Weapons Office Chemical Warfare section in 1939, though it was not used during World War II.
Despite the fact that all sarin gas in existence was supposed to have been destroyed nearly twenty years ago, it has made several appearances in various conflicts around the world since its invention.
In April 1988, Iraq used sarin four times again Iranian soldiers near the end of the Iran-Iraq war, allowing Iraqi forces to reestablish control over the al-Faw Peninsula. Sarin was also released by Aum Shinrikyo, a religious sect in Japan, in Matsumoto, killing eight and harming more than 200. It was again used by the sect in the Tokyo subway attack, resulting in the deaths of 12 people.
In 2004, Iraqi insurgents attacked a U.S. convoy by detonating a shell containing binary precursors for sarin, attempting to have the chemicals mix as the shell spun in the air. However, only a small amount of sarin gas was ultimately produced during the attack, leading to two U.S. soldiers being treated for potential exposure.
In 1997, the United Nations Chemical Weapons Convention went into effect, banning the production and stockpiling of sarin and numerous other chemical weapons. All specified stockpiles, including a declared total of 15,047 tons or sarin worldwide, were to be destroyed by April 2007 though, as of December 2015, only 89 percent had been confirmed destroyed.