In late-2012 news reports claimed Syria began mixing the chemical components of sarin gas, and loaded the deadly nerve agent into bombs on or near airfields. Since then there have been some reports of the use of chemical agents there by either the Assad regime and/or rebel militants. Officials continue to investigate what actually happened … however, since most people are not familiar with this topic, we wanted to share some data from our IT’S A DISASTER! book about chemical agents in general and sarin.
About Chemical Agents
Chemical agents are toxic vapors (gas), sprays (aerosols), liquids or solids that can poison people, animals and the environment. Some compounds or agents do have industrial uses, but many are man-made substances designed, developed and stockpiled as military weapons around the world.
A known terrorist tactic combines bombs and chemical trucks to spread deadly fumes. Most chemical agents are difficult to produce and very hard to deliver in large quantities since they scatter so quickly. Most are liquids and some may be odorless and tasteless. They could be inhaled, absorbed into the skin, or swallowed from a contaminated food or water source. Chemical agents can take effect immediately or over several hours or days – and can be deadly if exposed to enough of the agent. If exposed, the best thing to do is distance yourself from the agent and area and get fresh air.
What chemical agents could be used in an attack?
According to the CDC, there are several categories of chemical agents that could potentially be used in a terrorist attack – some common ones include:
- Blister Agents / Vesicants (Sulfur Mustard / Mustard Gas or Lewisite) – primarily cause blisters but can also damage eyes, airways, and digestive system
- Blood Agents (Arsine or Cyanide) – gets in blood stream and prevents cells from absorbing oxygen so cells die
- Choking / Lung / Pulmonary Agents (Ammonia or Chlorine) – cause breathing problems and lack of oxygen damages organs
- Incapacitating Agents (BZ or LSD) – disrupts central nervous system, causes confusion, and slows breathing (makes you woozy or knocks you out)
- Nerve Agents (Sarin, Soman, Tabun or VX) – the most toxic agents — basically turns “off” the body’s ability to stop muscles and glands from twitching (body goes into convulsions). Most agents were originally developed as pesticides / insecticides.
How could chemical agents be used in an attack?
There are several ways chemical agents could be spread:
- Vapors / Gas / Aerosols – spread into air by a bomb or from aircraft, boats or vehicles — could spread for miles
- Liquids – could be released into the air, water or soil or touched by people or animals
- Solids – could be absorbed into water, soil or touched
Some chemical agents can remain in the environment and cause problems long after they are released. In the event of a public health emergency, officials will tell people what actions need to be taken. But learn as much as you can before a crisis to help alleviate some stress, fear and problems.
So … what is sarin?
Sarin is a clear, colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid that could evaporate into a vapor (gas) and contaminate the environment. It is man-made and originally developed to kill insects. Nerve agents basically turn “off” the body’s ability to stop muscles and glands from twitching.
How it spreads: Sarin could be released into the air, water, or soil as a weapon. People can be exposed by breathing vapors, by drinking or eating something contaminated, or by touching water, soil or clothing exposed to sarin. A person’s clothing can release sarin for about 30 minutes after being exposed to vapor. Because sarin vapor is heavier than air, it settles in low-lying areas creating a greater exposure hazard.
Signs & Symptoms: Depends on how much, what form, and how people are exposed to sarin. No matter how exposed (breathing, absorbed through skin, or eating / drinking it), the following may show up within seconds (vapor or gas) or within minutes to 18 hours (liquid)…
- Head – runny nose, drooling or excess spittle, headache
- Eyes – watery, small pupils, blurred vision, eye pain
- Lungs – cough, tight feeling in chest, fast/rapid breathing
- Nervous system – confusion, drowsiness, weakness
- Heart/blood – slow/fast pulse, rise/drop in blood pressure
- Stomach/gastrointestinal – abdominal pain, puking, sick to stomach, diarrhea, pee lot more than normal
… plus …
- If exposed to small amount – just a drop of sarin on skin can cause sweating and muscle twitching
- If large amount – can cause convulsions (body can’t stop the muscles and glands from twitching), paralysis (can’t move), pass out, stops breathing leading to death
Treatment: Sarin poisoning is treated with antidotes and supportive medical care. Mainly want to avoid area where released, get decontaminated (strip & wash), and seek medical attention as soon as possible.
- First – leave area as quickly as possible
- … if outdoors – move to higher ground and stay upwind
- … if in building – get outside to highest ground possible
- If inhaled – get fresh air as quickly and calmly as possible
- If on clothing or skin – remove contaminated clothes and shoes but don’t pull anything over head – cut it off body. Seal all in plastic bag, then seal that bag in a bag and ask how to dispose of. Immediately wash body with clean water and soap.
- If in eyes – remove contacts if any. If eyes burning or vision blurred, rinse eyes with water for 10 -15 minutes.
- If swallowed – if someone drinks or eats something exposed to sarin, do NOT make them puke or drink fluids – call 9-1-1.
Above extracted from IT’S A DISASTER! …and what are YOU gonna do about it? – Learn more about our customizable book or ebook
And stay tuned since our next post will cover what to do in the event of a chemical attack.