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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

What is Sarin Gas?

Sarin gas is a highly toxic nerve gas that can kill you within minutes of ingestion even in very small doses. It is a Schedule 1 chemical weapon which means that the CWC (Chemical Weapons Convention) has determined that it is a highly dangerous and toxic weapon of mass destruction and has no other useful purpose on earth. It is considered to be 500 times more toxic than cyanide. The production and stockpiling of sarin gas was internationally outlawed by the CWC  in 1993.

Death from sarin gas exposure comes when the lungs become paralyzed and the victim suffocates. The initial symptoms include runny nose, chest tightness, nausea, difficulty breathing, drooling and pupil constriction. Moments later, the patient will begin to lose control of all bodily functions by vomiting, urinating and bowel movements. Seconds pass and the person will begin to twitch and jerk and then slip into a coma just before death occurs.

Sarin gas was originally discovered in 1938 by German scientists trying to create a stronger pesticide. In 1939, it was introduced into the German military for use as a chemical weapon and by the end of World War II, estimates of up to 10 tons of it had been produced. But Germany was not alone in this, by the 1950's both Russia and the US were producing sarin gas as the standard chemical weapon. Franklin Roosevelt set up the United States Biological Weapons Program in 1943 and ordered it to research and produce biological agents and weapons. The US stopped regular production of sarin gas in 1956 and stopped re-distilling of stockpiled bulk sarin gas in 1970.

In June of this year (2013), 189 states had joined the CWC and two more countries (Israel and Burma) were getting on board to destroy their chemical weapons stockpiles. Five more countries (Syria, South Sudan, North Korea, Egypt and Angola) refuse to sign on with the CWC's international effort to disclose and destroy all chemical weapons. In addition, a couple of countries (Sudan and China) have been accused of not disclosing their chemical weapons stockpiles.

Over 70,000 tons of chemical weapons worldwide were declared to the CWC in 2010 before destruction of these agents began. Within two years, over 50,000 tons had been destroyed. Only three CWC member countries have completely destroyed all their chemical weapons (India, South Korea and Albania). President Richard Nixon ended the US Biological Weapons Program in 1961. The US is expected to spend $60 billion to destroy these weapons that cost them $300 million annually to produce.

An April, 2012 deadline was given to two CWC member countries to completely destroy their chemical weapons stockpile. However, by that date, Russia and the US had both missed their deadline. These two countries had declared the largest stockpile in the world. When the deadline passed, the US had only destroyed 57% of their chemical weapon stockpile, but Russia had processed the destruction of about 90%. Iraq didn't join the CWC until 2009 and has not even started destruction of their chemical weapons stockpile.

Are we any safer due to all of these efforts to destroy these horrible weapons? At present, the Syrian government is preparing defensive measures and a counterattack should the US issue a strike against Syria for their use of the chemical agent sarin last month. Their first attack is aimed towards five US destroyer ships in the Mediterranean Sea, but experts agree that the Syrian government has long range missiles as well.

During the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 21, 2013, in the suburbs east of Damascus, the Syrian government led by President Bashar al-Assad  instigated a chemicals weapons attack on their own people. The bombs that exploded in these neighborhoods contained sarin gas as determined by hair and blood samples obtained from rescue responders following the attack. Over 1400 people died and hundreds of them were children and even babies.

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